Wish List for a Quality Product:
Good features + fit for purpose + long life + affordable cost + safe to use + efficient performance + low operating costs + easy availability + withstand mis-use + perform in harsh environments + low maintainance + neglibible failures + good support.....
Simple. We also have more production capacity than we used to have decades ago, globally, and more automation in the production chain. All of which can lead to an increase in the quantity good quality products, and certainly the same ratio of good to bad, at the very least.
I just don't buy the urban legend of quality going down the tubes. It's one of those complaints a lot of people feel compelled to voice, and by the way I've been hearing it my entire life. So by now it sounds like one of those empty truisms. And it doesn't reflect reality.
Much like the myth that a particular brand of Japanese cars builds an extraordinarily high quality car. Another empty truism that doesn't stand up to any scrutiny.
well...a confusing world it is...Quality is not ubiquitous in usage or experiences and is different than we assumed was in the world we grew up in. I scanned through and noted a few issues/this could be a small book that would be obsolete when published and of no interest to anyone except academics and historians; but that's another lecture. My first groan came from the observation of consumer goods being, uh, less than good. My observation is that 'Quality Control' no longer exists as a department or even a job of any description in the 'consumer' markets. Testing and process improvement are barely alive and only exist for the reduction of costs. 'Bad things' and electronics of all descriptions are 'shipped' with a warranty of some kind, so that the buyer is left to report any failed product and attempt to obtain another: the cost of good quality is now External to the company and savings compared to the cost of returned goods must be positive(?) If you bought a soft-steel screwdriver assuming it was like Grampa's...welcome to the World Economy. As far as I can tell, Durable Goods are the only 'produced' products to have any sort of process improvement as some Legislation has been put in place to insure high-dollar items have some financial security to the buyer and Insurance sellers. You have to realize that the money-makers and politicians are in charge of most of the issues you identify, and while the general knowledge and appreciation of 'technological marvels' is waning, and good things can still be made(however there is no longer any incentive in most industries). But as you observe: USA has the Wal-Mart mentality and 'quality has left the building' and far as I can see, is Not coming back! sorry folks, game-over.
I think that most people equate reliability with quality. It may not matter in a dog chew-toy if it falls apart in a few days or even hours, but for most of us, a car or dishwasher or oscilloscope is expected to work every time without any fuss and our perception of it's quality largely hinges on never having any problems with it. Any amount of bells and whistles in your car won't make up for one instance of sitting on the shoulder with the hood up waiting for a tow truck.
I've found that the problems I see with electronics today are frequently connector related. This wasn't a problem in electronics decades ago since everything was soldered or clamped with screws. Plug-in assembly makes manufacturing and service easy, but it impacts reliability, especially in harsh environments (your car is probably the harshest environment for electronics that you ever experience).
I agree with several comments that electrolytic capacitors are a problem, but it's not always insufficient voltage rating. I've replaced a lot of them situated too close to hot components. I'm sure the failure was thermally triggered. For what it's worth, I have a mid-fifties vintage tube portable radio that has a hot power resistor literally wrapped around an electrolytic can, so this is nothing new.
The auto industry is a good example of how the quality cycle works. American car makers made a world-class product for years, then they started cutting costs and began producing a badly inferior product. I suspect most of us who owned one of those inferior ones are not ready to trust the American automakers yet, despite a lot of evidence that they fixed the problems. When there are alternative manufacturers readily available, companies that produce bad products, even if just for a short time, lose customers permanently. How many customers did Toyota lose due to their recent, well-publicized problems?
Even if the statement is true, and I don't necessarily think it is, the reason you give? Hmm.
If the number of products on the market is greater now than it was 10 years ago, why would you conclude that the numerator in your equation would stay constant, and only the denominator increases?
That amounts to saying, quality has gone down because I said so. All else being equal, one would expect that as total number of products on the market goes up, so would the number of the better ones in the heap. Unless there are demonstrable reasons why this isn't the case.
And by the way, most people only talk about product longevity, as if quality only means longevity. It doesn't. The color TVs of the 1960s and 1970s were atrocious quality, compared with the ones of today, simply because their color rendition was awful (low contrast, bad color fidelity compared with the original image), they rendered colors differently for each TV station you'd tune in, their electronics drifted over time, ghost images were practically impossible to eliminate totally, and never mind the abysmal resolution.
Just lasting 20 years hardly makes up for the pitiful quality of the design. (Not to say there weren't reasons why those sets were so primitive, but primitive they definitely were.)
Funny you should mention LCD computer monitors. In the post above where I talked about power supply failures, my immediate thought was the two 24" widescreen LCD monitors that failed on me just this month -- identical make & model, both purchased less than 4 years ago, both had blown caps in the PS within 2 weeks of each other. Otherwise they had always been perfect -- no dead pixels, no problems with the CCFL backlights, etc.
For their replacements, I decided to spend a few more bucks and buy a highly rated name-brand monitor, and upgrade from CCFL to white LED backlighting.
The old saying "you get what you pay for" is often true, and I'm hoping that in this case the name-brand manufacturer spent the extra 50 cents for better caps in the PS...
Power supplies seem to be the most common cause of failure in today's electronic products, and there's no good excuse for that. Every manufacturer feels they need to save the extra 50 cents that it would cost to use higher voltage capacitors that allow for a comfortable amount of voltage headroom.
Sometimes I take the time to open up a failed product, find those bulging electrolytic caps and replace them. But more often than not, I just throw the thing away like everyone else does and go buy a newer model.
A cynic might say the manufacturer planned it to fail after X months or years, to force customers to go buy a new product. But smart businessmen know that an unhappy customer who bought a poor quality product is a lot less likely to give that manufacturer a second chance.
Actually on average the quality has gone down. This is due to simple statistic- the number_of_quality_goods/total_good was high a decade back compared to now because the denominator has shot up. So the chances of you coming across low quality goods is high now compared to yesteryears.