Category: Human Interface

Lot’s of people (read: like 4) have decided to take a personal vendetta against AT&T and Apple and give up their sweet, friendly little iPhone and pick up either a Pre, a Google Android phone, or both. They tout religious fervor for abstinence from Satan’s Spawn – the App Store – driven by the need to stand up for the rights of users and developers alike. Most say they can’t stand how Apple has been heavy handed with many things (mainly the App Store/Developer relationship) and that they are going on strike. Others claim that AT&T’s incompetence is too frustrating, and they’re not going to take it anymore. A lot of them say both, and therefore have two good reasons to leave the iPhone.

So, I have been thinking in my head this whole time, didn’t these guys use cell phones before the iPhone? I mean, didn’t they try out the abysmal handsets that were crippled by the best network in the game, Verizon? Didn’t they try having conversations with T-Mobile or AT&T users where the conversation sounded more like morse code than 21st century cellular communications? And most of all, on the mobile computing front, did any of these guys actually use the Palm, arguably the best handheld computer on the market before the iPhone? Well, I’ve done all this and more, and I have to say the iPhone was a real treat when it came out.

I was extremely concerned about carrier quality when I began seriously considering the switch. Dropped phone calls was a myth as far as I was concerned, as Verizon’s network really is that good. Calls sounded as clear and as clean as calls originating from a handset. I was living in California when the iPhone came out, and still had a Verizon contract. I tried AT&T for the trial period with the then sub-standard Palm Treo 650, and was utterly dismayed at the crap quality of the phone service, not to mention the hardware differences between the same phone on Verizons network (microphone responded differently, audio levels were so low they were unusable, even on speaker, and the AT&T Treo took about 30 seconds to connect a call, vs. Verizon’s 650 that would start ringing almost the second you pushed send). Then, there was the terrible hissing sound present with ALL AT&T calls, on the 650 and the RAZR. YUK!

So the thought of switching to AT&T, even for the iPhone, was scary. What finally made me switch? Well, it was a combination of things, but the biggest was NOT the lust for the iPhone, even though that was palpable. No, instead it was the sheer hatred I had developed for Verizon. Between a move back to Utah, a first time large purchase of the Palm Treo 700p, and some really crappy experiences with the handset and carrier, I decided enough was enough.

I’d threatened to switch from Verizons asininely high priced calling network to something more affordable for months – nay – years at that point, and still had little luck getting what I felt was due from them. Complex things, like proper billing, telephone representatives who don’t lie about what were supposed to be documented promises, and most of all, a handset that actually works. The first two, I could deal with. The bill I would watch religiously. It’s not difficult when you’re paying ~$180/month (sometimes more). Some people drive a good used car for that price. The lying and seemingly cultured cheating I would counter with my all-out assault of annoying calls, hitting the 611 five or six times if needed to get the one representative who was too new, too stupid, or too kind to know that you don’t break Verizon’s policies without repercussions.

But the third point, the telephone that didn’t work, that really irked me. I had always talked Verizon into giving me the highest priced handsets for free, pointing out that this would be cheaper for them than losing me. Alas, I did spend well over the average in monthly plan fees, and always paid my bill. What was not to like. Of course, I did have to sell the idea to them every time, but each and every time, I’d get a new handset for my wife and myself, and not just the cheap ones either. These are the ones that would actually last 2 years and longer. But it was time to move up to the big time. I was sick of carrying two devices in my pocket (a palm and phone), and got the idea that a two-in-one would be the solution.

Enter the 700p. Long story short: it was great, when it was great. But soon it fell into fits of bugginess, freezing, and most regrettably, extreme lack of call quality. I would get horrible sound, bad connectivity (voice AND data) and a whole lot of lame excuses from Verizon. I had the phone replaced 3 times (learning along the way that my $350 phone was being swapped or used look-alikes with some other dude’s earwax in the cracks). Well, three strikes, and Verizon was out. They said that I would have to buy a new, different phone if I wanted to fix the issues. I said I would leave. They said go ahead. I drove to AT&T.

Now I have the iPhone on a sub-standard cellular network, and I couldn’t be happier. Ok, I could be happier. But with all this talk of how evil AT&T and Apple are acting, and how horrible the network is, I have to ask again if anyone has been awake for the last 5 years. AT&T’s customer service is all but wonderful, and the network isn’t bad either. If Verizon is 100% in quality of calls (because they are), then AT&T is about 80% on a bad day, and 85%-90% on a good day. Usually I can make calls the way I like, but I’d say I get hundreds of dropped calls a year, where on Verizon it was almost a privilege to drop a call, as it happened 3-5 times tops. Still, 100’s of dropped calls in a year when I make tens of thousands of calls, the odds ain’t bad when looked at in perspective.

Then there’s the App store that so few have been complaining about lately. Sure, it’s not perfect. But did you guys ever TRY to find software for the palm pilot, let alone the palm phones? It was hell. If you could find what you wanted, tucked away in the corners of the virtual universe, chances are you would have to do a rain dance or some other crazy ritual to get it installed and working. It was extremely hit or miss. Once again, while the App store isn’t perfect, it’s an epic breath of fresh air compared to the prior alternatives. Apple has kept tight control of their handset sphere, and that, my friends, is what makes the iPhone so incredible.

I have been asking myself recently: would I return to Verizon if they jumped on the iPhone bandwagon? Probably not. Maybe, but probably not. I hated the crap I had to deal with from a customer non-service standpoint, and that really matters to me. Feeling like I could stay or go, and they didn’t give a load which I chose bothered me to a great extent. Then there’s the price. Why would I pay more just to be kicked around by those goons. The offer would have to be pretty sweet to jump ship and return to Verizon. Now, maybe I’d consider Sprint, as they share the same network in many places, but even that’s unlikely.

So, what’s driving these folks from the iPhone and AT&T? Same thing that drove me from Verizon. Seething hatred. They’re making a statement, a vote if you will with their wallet. They’re saying enough, because they’re just mad enough. But that’s the thing: most people are NOT seething about AT&T and Apple’s decisions. And I’d argue most are aware of them. They just don’t care. I would assume many of them remember what the dark ages of cellular strangleholds were like, and are perfectly content with the solutions that Apple has come up with to cure their calling woes.

The takeaway, from my perspective, is this: You have to HATE AT&T and Apple to leave for the Palm Pre or an Android phone.

But wait – I hate AT&T. Sure, I talk nice about them in public, but taking a 20% hit in call quality IS annoying. I do hate them, but not enough to – even for a second – consider switching to T-Mobile, Verizon, or Sprint. Even IF they had the iPhone, I think it would take some very real convincing. The better network, Verizon, is run by some big anus, and the others seem to be a downgrade in network quality, which I can’t afford. So while I think it’s good that people want competition, openness, and freedom of consumer choice, I think everyone would benefit from a good dose of historical reflection.

Cyborgs are coolCyborgs can do way more than humans. They can turn themselves into molten metal, they can make their eyes glow red, and most of all they can use Cyborg Interfaces. Human interfaces, or User interfaces are slow, clunky, and passé, at best. You see, when a human has to interface with a system, they need pretty icons, practical and familiar layouts/design, and structure. Cyborgs need none of these. Linus Torvalds is a lower-case “c” cyborg. He doesn’t need a Human interface any more than a meteor needs wings.

Mr. Torvalds, and Cyborgs, are both technically superior to us. They can process data at incredible speeds. They can also type really, really fast, so using interfaces such as the command line is easy for them. But for us mere humans, we need a little help. It’s not that our minds are weak. They’re just too busy monitoring our bodies as they replicate skin (Cyborgs don’t have this problem), or keeping the ol’ ticker going (don’t confuse Cyborgs with the Tin Man – they will probably kill you for it as they are and always will be heartless).

We, as humans, interact with many different types of systems on a daily basis, such as computers, automobiles, and even simple things such as milk cartons. We understand these systems best when there is an interface in place to facilitate that interaction. In the examples above, these interface elements might be:

– A mouse, a keyboard, and a screen
– Steering wheel, keys, pedals, and dials
– A handle, a cap, and a translucent bottle

How might you respond if you were asked to drive a car using a keyboard and a monitor? Would translucency benefit your computing experience as much as it does pouring a glass of milk?

We (well, most of us) mortals have certain expectations when interacting with any system, and if these expectations are not reasonably met, we become frustrated. The net effect: we leave, we stop using it, we throw it away, or we make fun of it. A good interface is always simple, clear, and rarely noticed by the average human. A good interface is not defined by a certain color palette, a set of icons, or a font. A good interface is not a set of buttons or graphics that take you through the steps. Sure, interfaces use these and other elements, but a true Human Interface is built around the Human for whom the system was originally intended. If they struggle to use it properly, they aren’t doing something wrong. The interface (and possibly the system for which it is built) is flawed.

Another defining characteristic of a great interface – if not always, then often – is the lack of extensive documentation detailing how to use it. This is not to say that you can just throw away your documentation and win the award. You need to carefully craft your product so that the number and order of the steps to complete a task or objective are sequential and obvious. An example of this is the Apple iMac. The iMac’s original manual was entered into the Guinness Book of World Records for being the world’s smallest manual, containing only 32 words — something revolutionary in a world where PCs were sold alongside their voluminous manuals outlining how to get the complicated machines up and running. The manual wasn’t short for brevity’s sake, but rather a reflection of the fact that the machine was simple to set up and use.

A good user interface requires little instruction, because the interface is designed in the first place to satisfy the needs AND instincts of the end user. They will feel that using the interface is instinctual, natural, and even familiar. Keep these points in mind when designing your product. It will save you a great deal of time and money in the long run, not to mention the frustration you’ll save your customers as they try out your product or service. This can only lead to increased customer satisfaction which will in turn produce better brand evangelists for your business, a great reward for caring about your customer’s experience.

I wish I had a screenshot of the old iPhone 2.0 call info screen, because frankly, it sucked. I always lamented that there wasn’t any really pertinent information there, and rather just a bunch of wasted space. Well, to my surprise, once I had OS 3.0 installed and working, I soon happened upon the call info screen, and was almost giddy to see that there was now a useful display of data pertaining to the call(s) which I had drilled into.

Instead of seeing only a comma separated list of times when a call was made, (which was totally useless), I now see a nicely formatted table of calls, organized by incoming/outgoing, and listed by date/time made. They include the time the call was made/received, as well as the length of the call:

It’s little things like this that garner my overall appreciation for Apple products. While I’ve wanted this feature for some time, it’s like they read my mind with this most recent update. So many other interfaces are left wanting. And wanting. And wanting. And they never seem to change.

Thanks for figuring it out, Apple!

I know copy/paste has been around for ages on mobile devices. I used it often on my palm p700 years ago, and there’s no denying it’s a very useful feature. The fact that tens of millions of mobile computing users chose the iPhone despite the glaring absence of simple copy/paste is quite a tribute to the phone’s revolutionary concepts and design.

Still, it’s good to know that Apple woke up and got to work by bringing this basic function to the iPhone. Already, I’ve found myself using it more than a handful of times. And it only seems to get more fun each time I use it. I’m now looking for things to copy/paste just to use the feature. It’s a bit like an illness. Thanks, Apple. It’s nice to finally have a real computing experience on the iPhone.

Sent from my iPhone

I’m so happy that Microsoft has made such stunning advancements in recent years. Like today for instance, when I turned on my virtual instance of Windows running in Parallels on my Apple MacBook Pro, and it conveniently informed me (through a series of beeping sounds and pop-up notifications) that it had found new hardware. In fact, it was so helpful, you see, because I realize immediately that my recent strenuous efforts to install a power cord onto the side of my laptop computer were successful, and I needn’t fear any longer the dreaded ‘power cord re-install’.

How lucky for me.

Windows is so smart, it's sexy

What would I do without all of these helpful little notifications every time I move my mouse in Windows?