I was testing out a few new devices this weekend, and found myself just immensely frustrated with them. At first I chalked it off to the pitiful, yet unbelievably tolerated excuse of “that’s technology”. But that’s really a pathetic answer. Gadgets should not suck as much as they do. So here’s my little list of Why Gadgets Suck:
- They are ill-conceived. I think the picture of the MP3 player slash breathalyzer I took at CES is the best example here. Too many people sitting in board rooms thinking up crazy ideas that apply to nobody. Also, convergence for the sake of convergence is a terrible idea. If you think consumers want keyboards in their living rooms, or more remote controls, or to carry around something that doesn’t fit in a pocket OR a backpack, you have the wrong consumer experts on your team.
- Too much jargon. If the average Joe can’t figure out how to add contacts using a Moto RAZR, forget putting in a network setup screen that asks them which type of wireless network security their SSID uses. If you can’t figure out how to make a setup screen have regular old English, then you’ve made your product too hard to figure out by regular people. Think of it this way: the average person out there is uncomfortable with the concepts of “inputs and outputs” on their stereos – so if you are even minorly more sophisticated than that, you are confusing people.
- Unusable interfaces. A product should be usable without an instruction manual. Sending an SMS, synching MP3s or podcasts, and creating Season Passes should be as easy as making instant popcorn in the microwave. Granted there’s always room for “power user features” but the power users should be the 20%, not the 80%, of people who buy your product. If your “usability designer” (who probably has a Ph. D) shows you something and you don’t instantly understand it without explanation, it’s not good enough.
- Usability designers. I’m sure there are plenty of these folks who have built great products in reality. Unfortunately it sure seems like most of them just do it on paper. My biggest tip here is that a really good usability person (a) doesn’t need a degree in it and (b) can point out not just flaws, but ways to improve most products they use, be it a coffee maker or a cell phone.
- Lack of visionaries. Remember the old “a camel is a horse designed by a committee” phrase? In the devices world, this applies doubly. Visionaries keep products focused, whereas teams build according to “specs”. Three products built by visionaries: iPod, Slingbox, TiVo. Three products built by the rest: the Nomad Jukebox, Sony LocationFree TV, Comcast’s DVR. Need I say more?
- Poor timing. With a domestic market of over 50% of Internet-connected households having broadband, today would be an acceptable time to attempt to ship “Internet devices”. But when 3Com tried to ship the Audrey in the late 90s, that was poor timing. I recently played with two different gadgets that both used dialup networking to get online. ONLY. Not even a broadband option. Really?
- The buttons don’t match the screens. My Syntax Olevia 32″ LCD (which, by the way, is having issues and their tech support department has been excessively slow in responding to) has a very simple menuing system that’s extremely easy to navigate. However, the buttons on the remote were not laid out in a way to match the on-screen menus, and literally 1/2 the time I make a setting the button I push is the one that cancels the setting! You can certainly call this user error, but if someone as comfortable with devices as I am has a recurring issue like this, there’s probably a way the product could be made better.
- Shoddy workmanship. I’m really talking about poor product testing here, but I just like that phrase so much. It amazes me when I try out a product with a basic feature set, such as a media extender or a digital picture frame, and run into an actual bug within minutes of use. One product I tried had the on-screen fonts render at double their normal size during video playback and when I asked their engineers about it, they hadn’t seen it before. I was using a standard file format and wasn’t even trying to trip it up. Always review your test cases to make sure they line up with real-world scenarios, not the ones in the labs.
I could probably double this list up with other common annoyances out there, but this seems like a good spot to take a pause.
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Please tell me you didn’t buy a syntax olevia!
I did, but it was 3 years ago, 32″ for $599, a full $300 lower than anything else at the time… was very happy with it until 2 weeks ago when my DVI input suddenly stopped working. it’s still fine on all other inputs, so I’m on component until I pick a new set out this Fall…
I just picked up a nice sharp 32″ for my pop for 549$ from costco. 300$ less than regular, but for the money and the audience, it is a nice set. Great image quality, good inputs, only 720p, but he is just now moving on up to HD.
Nice and oh-so-accurate list, Jeremy. In fact, it’s probably inspiration for a post on fourreasonswhy.com, which is devoted to lists. 🙂
Coin cells, AAA and AAAA batteries. Very Expensive, too much is shell and not enough is power storage. AA’s aren’t much bigger and have 2-3 times the life for the same cost. That includes rechargables. AAA seems to be fragile and too short lived. I will accept a compromise in small cuteness for longer operation life and robustness until a standard form rechargable LI-ion pack is adopted by industry.
You mentioned the Motorola Razr. What an abortion!!! I tried to take pictures of my son on a carousel last August.
Take the picture.
What do you want to do with it ? (not with this prompt, just store or discard, you can’t make the decision later)
To where?? (memory, hard drive, e-mail, area 51, etc.)
By now the carousel ride is over and you have managed to snap 1 picture which may or may not be any good. Not to mention if it’s the middle of the day and you can barely see the screen for these prompts.
HEY MOTOROLA, HOW ‘BOUT JUST AUTOMATICALLY SAVING THE DAMN THING AND GETTING READY FOR THE NEXT SHOT?????
Then to add insult to injury, try to transfer the pictures to your desktop PC without special drivers and software (which I eventually found and got working, no thanks to Moto.)
What a royal P-I-T-A that experience was. I really think that the folks who design these things haven’t a clue as to common sense or practicality.
cliffystones has hit it on the head. My Samsung phone is not much better. Convergence is great, practicality is better. Gadget companies don’t seem to understand HOW ordinary people use their products. My digital camera automatically stores my shot, why doesn’t my camera phone? Or at least give me the option somewhere in setup. Until then, the camera is fairly useless, no matter how many pixels it has.
It’s time the marketing guys spoke to the average users instead of each other!
I came across a website on this subject: http://www.gadgetsthatsuck.com.