Flex direction vs. customer wish list?

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  • Updated 2 years ago
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  • (Edited)
How does Flex decide priorities for features?
I am interested in buying a model 6400 or 6600.  On a purchase decision this size, I want third party and end user feedback, so I posted this on eham.net:  https://www.eham.net/ehamforum/smf/index.php/topic,119092.0.html

If you ignore a handful of replies by "annoyers" or non-owners, a common thread emerges;  That many people who purchase a Flex love the HW, but are less than thrilled by slow progress on basic usability features vs. high end contester features. 

I ask innocently and honestly, how does Flex decide where to focus limited resources on improvements to SmartSDR?   I want to become a customer, so I want to understand my decision before I buy.   I also happen to work for a fortune 2000 computer company (+150,000 employees) as an engineering manager.  I have limited resources, just like Flex, but on a different level.   We talk to a broad range of customers and request input each year.   From several hundred requests, I can usually fund/staff a small array of the top 5 feature requests that come up more often across the most customers.

Does Flex use a similar process?   No company should ever promise dates, since we don't control what happens in real life events, but we can choose to publish a web page where loyal customers vote for feature requests.   No promise, but a list of feature requests.

My thread on eham is far too small a sample size to draw conclusions from, but I keep reading that many Flex customers would like to see more focus on improving basic foundation features in the radio, such as NB and NR, among other basic features like true FSK.

How does flex gather these requests and numbers from customers, and does Flex make engineering resource decisions based on those recurring basic feature requests?

I would hate to go ahead and purchase, and then risk becoming one of those customers on the thread that gets tired of waiting for basic features to improve.

Do you have any feedback that will help me make an informed purchase decision, AFTER you have reviewed the above eham.net thread where your current customers/owners were advising me?

Sincere Thanks,

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Neal Pollack, N6YFM

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Posted 2 years ago

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PERRLA, LLC - Agency

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I bought the Flex for what it IS, not what I hoped it would become.  Sure, I would like to see some additional features but that doesn't keep me from loving what I've already been successfully using for the past few years.

Improvements have been made to the software, although many of those improvements have been made in areas that are of no interest to me.  It doesn't upset me, though.  I was content with the radio the day I opened the box.  If it gets better, it gets better.  If not, it's still a wonderful as-is.

So, my advice is to get Flex if you can be content with the radio as it is today.  If you think it needs more time to mature, you might be better off to wait a bit.  (Meanwhile, I'll be enjoying my Flex as-is! :-)   )

Cliff (N4CCB)
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I wish you luck with your third party and end user feedback, although personally I think you're wasting your time, at least on this forum.  Asking for responses from members of the Flex Forum about Flex products is akin to asking members of a Ferrari Forum whether they like Ferrari's. 

Odds are most of your responses are going to be skewed in the direction of the users decided purchase, be it Flex, Elecraft, ICOM, or whatever... and perhaps not for the same reason(s) you might be interested in (size, ergonomics, contesting, rag chewing, knobs vs no knobs, remote operation, display/no display, etc).  There are only a small percentage of hams who can afford to buy, test, and compare all the high end rigs on the market, but even those people make their purchase decisions based on their personal wants and needs.  

As for, "... a common thread emerges;  That many people who purchase a Flex love the HW, but are less than thrilled by slow progress on basic usability features vs. high end contester features" - I  own two Flex Transceivers, and I couldn't disagree more.  After 50 years in the hobby and owning most of the major manufacturers higher end amateur equipment I've found that Flex to be a company that is constantly working towards improving their already fantastic usability features, with a constant push towards improving contesting features (7th Order Filtering, SO2R based PowerGenius XL amplifier, incorporated remote antenna switching, etc).  Is there room for improvement?  Sure!  But there's room for improvement for every rig out there, but I have no doubt Flex will continue to be on the forefront of future improvements.   

Since the 6400 and 6600 use the same SmartSDR software as the other 6xxx series rigs, and the SmartSDR software is the heart of this transceiver series, what would offer you the least amount of financial risk would be to buy a used 6300, 6500, or 6700, and try it out for awhile.  Then if you find it doesn't meet your needs you could resell it and recoup most or all of your money.  
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Steve - N5AC, VP Engineering / CTO

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Official Response
This is a timely post as we have finished our work on the new models and are planning what we're going to look at next.  This process of what we decide to do varies from year to year.  In some years, we had discussed features in advance that we wanted to go work on that were significant investments, such as the remote capability in version 2.0.  In general, though, we take a two pronged approach: we look for input from our customers from several places including the idea section here, defects that have been reported, what we see in message boards here in general, and specific solicited input from our advisors and our Alpha team, which tests everything we come up with and N6WM who manages our contest feature list.  Henry Ford is attributed with saying "If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses."  This simply says that often existing customers ask for enhancements that appear to be along the line of where the company is going rather than come up with wild ideas that might revolutionize the market, industry, etc.  So we also look inward to what we could do. We have a fairly endless stream of ideas for new products and software and we weigh what we have the resources to do against the suggestions from customers and generally end up picking from both areas the things we think will do the most for our customers and entice new prospects to join the FlexRadio family.

I will say that with every passing year as we have more customers and consequently can have a larger staff to support those customers, the additions to the engineering team have allowed us to do more each year.  We do hear sometimes that the progress is slower than people want and I totally get that.  It's, in some respects, slower than I would want too.  Our engineers are terrific, though, and if you compare our "output per capita" against other companies I have no doubt we'd stack up handsomely.  Our engineers are very talented and prolific.  It's difficult to hire new folks because we are fairly demanding.  There are no freeloaders in our group and it would not be well tolerated if there were (they wouldn't last long).

So that's the process.  If you have inputs, you can certainly communicate them here -- on the community in the ideas section -- or even send one of us at FlexRadio a request.  We like getting those because we like spending time thinking about what "could be" in the world of amateur radio.  We also like turning the what could be into the "what is."
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Dan -- KC4GO

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Steve writes "There are no freeloaders in our group" as I saw Gerald setting  unpacking and setting up the display at HamCation then work all day to talk to the visiting hams I would say this is very true. Flex works hard for us.