When Will Technology Make Life Simpler?

Technology has gone mad, with techno-freaks allowed to design user interfaces. Why does my car need a firmware upgrade?
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Remember when a phone had a dial on the front with numbers, a TV had a volume knob and a dial with channels on it, and a record player had two controls: volume and speed?


• I have six remote controls on the TV room table, with more buttons than a 747.

• My deskphone has 25 buttons on it with four icons I don’t even know and one called “R.”

• My PocketPC PDA/phone keeps it secret that Bluetooth headset mode is disabled.

• There are five ways to connect a DVD player to a sound system but my sound system only has the four I don’t need.

• I need to navigate a menu just to watch a movie.

• And my car needs a firmware upgrade.

I want to pick the phone up, dial a number and talk to someone. When I’m done I will hang up. I want to turn on one device (or turn on all the devices at once) to watch Sky, DVD or video.

I want to change channels, play/stop/rewind/forward/eject, adjust volume, and mute from one remote. (The mute button is the only valuable advance in user interface in fifty years of consumer technology.) The remote should park in a socket on the front of the box and recharge while it’s there. I’m not going back into the TV room until the manufacturers get it together.

I want “dial tone” functionality for all the devices in my life, meaning they’re always on, and they work by engaging them physically, e.g., pick up the hand-piece or open the door or stick a disc in. I don’t want all this other stuff. Do you?

I’m not alone. A survey of 15,000 mobile phone users in 37 countries shows that “too many functions I did not use” is the number one device problem in all regions of the world. Of course manufacturers are not entirely to blame. As consumers we are naïve and childish, seduced by spec sheets and blinking lights. There are alternatives out there, if you can find them, such as Kyocera’s A101k phone.

But mostly manufacturers are to blame. As a comparison to the Kyocera, consider what Vodafone Australia thinks is a simple phone: polyphonic ring-tone downloads, phonebook with PC synchronisation, SMS messaging, timer, calculator and alarm.

What is wrong with these people? Push the geeks out of the driver’s seat and put someone normal in control of product design: someone who doesn’t have a home LAN with a firewall server in the hall closet, or a Bluetooth earpiece and keyboard for their PDA/phone.

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