Jon, I think you have hit on one of the biggest issues and challenges today for companies producing products, even if they don't identify with the label of software developer. The cream of the crop of today's consumer devices have gotten consumers very used to a streamlined, intuitive user experience where they can nearly effortlessly navigate the device and be up and running in fairly short order.
I'll conceed there are still exceptions--much like your phone experience. But increasingly, that is not the norm and the expectation from consumers is that they should be able to go from zero to 60 on a device without a lot of handholding and definitely without having to read arcane technical documentation. Case in point: I can generally hand my tween-agers an app or a Web site that has me confounded and they can zero in on the proper navigation and cut to the chase in fairly short order.
The whole trend around consumer devices setting the expectation stage for the user experience for both business and personal products is not going away. Companies are going to have to step up to the plate if they want happy and engaged customers.
Cell phones especially, go through rapid version changes. The 2-year contract that is normal with phones will likely put you three or four firmware versions behind by the time you get to upgrade again. The user interface has to change with the firmware (or else how will we dumb users know that something changed). The rapid pace means kludgy interfaces.
I'd really, really like to see that rate of change slow down, but that industry doesn't agree with me.
I agree, Beth. Companies try hard to get a product on store shelves as quickly as possible and might "update" an older user interface to force fit it to a new product in the interest of saving time. My story about the Samsung phone gets sadder by the day. Instead of trying the exasperating Bluetooth connection with my old phone I decided to enter my important contacts in the phone's directory manually. The phone has fields for First Name (Joe) and Last Name (Smith), and it combines these fields to display the name "Joe Smith" in the directory. Apparently the search "feature" looks only at the first name because a search for "Sm" cannot find "Joe Smith" in the directory. The software lacks the capability to list last names first. The user should have that choice, or the software should find a string of characters anywhere in name fields.
I admit some other search capability might exist, but if so, the user interface has it well hidden, as does the phone's instruction booklet.
Hi, TJ. We could go back to a phone monopoly such as the one AT&T had for many years. Then it was a big deal to get a colored "shell" for a phone and the phone company fought any attempts to add non-AT&T equipment to a phone line. (Just kidding about going back to the monopoly.)
Competition among suppliers of all types of equipment drives the "need" for new features and capabilities. We saw this effect in the early days of PCs, when many companies jumped into the market with new features, proprietary operating systems, off graphic formats, and the like. Eventually things settled down and a PC is a PC, regardless of vendor. Perhaps the same thing will happen in the cell-phone market in 10 to 15 years.
Jon, I hope you are right about phone interfaces and tech following the PC interface/tech curve. But I'm less hopeful, mostly because the volumes and target customers are quite different. People who have to use computers for actual work tend to be less patient with too much "choice" in features and interfaces, etc. and just want to get on with things. But "choice" is something that consumers, buyers of cellphones, either actually want or are perceived to want by manufacturers. I mean, to a lot of people they're a fashion accessory, lol.
I could not agree more with the general premise of this article. User interfaces are getting worse, particularly those that are in the second, third or fourth revisions, because the designers assume that the user is familiar with the earlier versions. I recently drove a rental car in Los Angeles with a radio that was so complicated, I couldn't figure out how to turn it on in five minutes, so I went on my way without ever using it. Again, the assumption is that the driver has used similar devices in the past. I'm sure the interfaces are easy to use once you are familiar with them, but there seems to be no thought given to first-time users.
There's something to be said for a more controlled environment. At the very least, there would be some accountability. It's unforgivable for a software bug to cross major revisions; that tells me the software developer is more interested in marketing hype of a new release to maintain the revenue stream. Flash over function, I suppose one could say.
If I get injured in an accident or become incapacitated in some way, I want a communication device that's easy to use so I can quickly connect with a 911 operator. I don't want to go through several steps to unlock a cell phone and make a call. And in an accident we don't always think clearly.
People who create new products often overlook the need to design for older people, too. Opening some boxes of food presents big challenges for stroke victims with only one useful hand or for people with limited flexibility due to arthritis, for example. I have a phone on my desk purchased specifically because it has large numbered buttons I find easier to press than smaller buttons on portable phones. I also abandoned the Apple keyboard that came with my Macintosh because the small buttons gave insufficient tactile feedback and make it too easy to hit an incorrect key. In this case, a practicel keyboard beat out a sleek and cool design.
Jon, you've hit three of my ticked-off consumer hot buttons: easy to use interfaces, stuff that's easy for first-time users to figure out, and stuff that's physically easy to open for the growing senior population. At one time or another I'm all three. I'm gravitating towards products that are well designed for older users mostly because they are simple and obvious. Plus I hate wasting time figuring out how to open or operate something, and am likely to take a scissors to it (like unruly clamshell packaging) or not buy/return it (usually I go for the first option--saves the most time of all).
My personal cell phone, which I only use when traveling, is the Jitterbug. Big easy to read buttons, obvious and simple menus. No weird icons that resemble nothing in the known universe and are too small to see anyway. It does absolutely nothing except receive and make voice calls. If I need to read email, I most likely need to do that on my computer. My home office desktop phone is so simple Plantronics doesn't make them anymore: a small black box with number, on/off, and mute buttons, and a volume adjust wheel, plus a headset.
If accidents or whatever happen, both are instantly easy to use.
I'm with you on this one, Jon. Sometimes when I'm struggling to open a container of apple juice or a jar of salsa, I think of my 86-year-old mother. There is no way she would be able to open these containers without a socket wrench. As for small buttons, I bought a calculator that has large, raised buttons. Can't find a phone that does. My thumbs are too big for texting.
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