When it Doesn’t Just Work

We came back home after a few days away to a rather amusing note from the gal who house-sat out home (and dog) while we visited family over the holidays.

She noted a few “issues” with our digitally-controlled stuff, summarized thusly:

  1. The radio in the kitchen does not work like a radio,
  2. The TV in the family room does not work like a TV,
  3. The TV in the master bedroom does not work like a TV,
  4. The atomic-interfaced alarm clock is now into 2017.

Anyone who, like us, has more modern digital video/sound systems knows the problem with the proliferation of remote controls and the occasional complexity of doing simple tasks, like, say, turning the thing on and changing channels. What if the prior input was for the Tivo, and now I want to watch a broadcast channel, or a DVD, or skate on over to Netflix-on-demand? Eventually, you get used to which buttons to press and in what order, but when someone else comes into the house, you now have…utter confusion.

Back in the day, when you walked into someone else’s house, every TV pretty much worked the same. And radios had on-off buttons and simple station selectors. It wasn’t HD, but it was simple. It worked.

We’ve come a long way in making great technology. I was reflecting with Joe Cascio over coffee a few days back how we old-timers were trained, by Microsoft primarily, to expect disaster and hardship and trouble with every new version, every peripheral, every update (the “Microsoft Flinch”). I still get angst-y whenever I install something or bring up a new device – except now, stuff mostly just works (OK, so I am now mostly working with Apple products, but the PC stuff is WAY better as well!)

But we’re not there yet. When a house-sitter can’t even get a TV to work, we have a user-interface problem. When I STILL need my kids to occasionally remind me that I have to press button Q on remote #3 in order to actually reach the proper menu to do X, this is not good design. We’ve crossed the threshold of easy on a lot of products and systems, but we still have a ways to go to make everything just work. I guess that’ll keep some of our talented people permanently employed!

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