When Will Technology Make Life Simpler?: Page 2

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What we need is:

• Transparent technology: automation of customization. Let the device work out all the options. With every passing decade, Windows inches towards this goal, but the geeks run ahead sprinkling new obstacles in the path. The old voice phones are insanely complex devices, but the user sees none of it. I want a screen that is always on, has a touch screen, and allows me to browse the Web. No modems, no network properties, no passwords. Game machines will be the first to deliver.

• Design for the non-geek. Even we geeks get tired and have times where we don’t want to wrestle with technology. Most people never want to. And they don’t trust technology so don’t ask them to. I heard a lovely story about the Toyota Auto-lock function that locks the door when you walk away: people would walk off, then wonder if the door had really locked, so would walk back – which would unlock it...

• Design for humans. There has been recent discussion suggesting that the iPhone might be useful for business. It’s not. It hasn’t delivered anything that my Windows-CE PDA/phone doesn’t already give me. They all suffer from one problem: the screen’s too small. You can’t pull a cow down a drainpipe and you can’t use a phone to do work: you can’t usefully read spreadsheets, or edit documents, or operate applications. Heck, you can’t surf: a million WAP-enabled phones proved that. You can’t even read. Why aren’t the trains and buses full of people reading e-books? Because the geeks overlooked the simple fact that screens aren’t good for reading (even big ones).

“It is not pleasant to read things on the Internet with a backlit screen. It is hard on your eyes. Eventually maybe they will find a way to make it a lot easier to read.

The other problem is that you have to scroll. It is primitive in the sense that the Internet is a scrolling medium. A printed book with pages was such an advance over scrolling. To go back to scrolls is to step into the past. That goes back to monks in the 13th century. A lot has happened since the 13th century to improve the technology of reading, and so far no one has come up, for sheer reading ease, with anything better than hard copy pages.” - Tom Wolfe

• Physical interfaces: the old devices had a wee button here and a switch there and a lever over there: car choke knob, camera shutter timer, phone receiver hook … Now we have rows of identical buttons with cryptic icons or abbreviations, or multifunction joysticks where the down action has five different meanings depending on the context. This is not intuitive. Put physical buttons on it, give them each a single function, make them different shapes and sizes, and put them in handy places spread around the device. Consumer electronics should not look like 747 cockpits.

The sophistication of the modern world makes our lives easier, but it is apparently too much to ask that technology should make our lives simpler.


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