Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Why the Rokr stinks

Wired 13.11: Battle for the Soul of the MP3 Phone:
Consumers want an iPod phone that will play any song, anytime, anywhere. Just four little problems: the cell carriers, the record labels, the handset makers, and Apple itself. The inside story of why the ROKR went wrong.* (*And what it will take to make a truly rocking music phone.)

Ok, the world and its dog appear to have a handle on why the Rokr doesn't, and it seems to boil down to the same things: Too few songs, no online downloading, no proper music buttons, too much Moto, not enough Apple. While some of this is undeniably true (especially the Moto/Apple balance - though what did people expect a Motorola phone to be? An iPod?) I'm not buying it all. Doesn't anyone think that there might just be some things about a phone that are inherently incompatible with a music player? I'm thinking:
  • Do I want phone calls to interrupt my listening? I'm happy to see who's calling, kick back and let it ring while I enjoy the music. I'll get back to them later.

  • When my iPod battery runs flat (not too often with the Nano, but it has happened once or twice on some particularly heavy podcast-listening and photo-browsing sessions) I'm not too worried. When the phone's out of juice I'm out of touch.

  • For iPod commuting I usually use my Apple in-ear headphones as they cut out a fair bit of traffic noise. At home it's plugged into my amp via a lovely Monster iCable. Sometimes I've been known to opt for a set of extravagant Bose QuietComfort 2 Acoustic Noise Cancelling Headphones when I want to drown out someone else's TV viewing. My phone headsets have been universally rubbish, and even given a decent set I'd most likely be tied to that make and model (Sony Ericsson seem to change the connector as often as most people change their underwear).

  • My music player really doesn't need a set of number keys. But my phone does.

  • We might moan about Apple, DRM, the record labels, but if you really want stupid/entrenched/evil just look at the phone carriers. I'm not ready to turn my music listening over to them just yet. And as I always say; I don't know anyone who thinks their phone bill is too small.

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Sunday, October 16, 2005

Broken Things I

Here's a first stab at some of the things we may want to turn our attention to here:

ATMs: There are a whole variety of these, but there doesn't seem to have emerged many standard ways of doing things. Different banks use different systems, buttons change their functions 3 or 4 times during a single task, user choices are presented in seemingly arbitrary sequence: The result seems to be constant re-learning and the impossibility of leveraging prior experience. What a mess.

Friends Reunited: When I asked Charlotte to think of something broken, she named the venerable FR without a moment's hesitation. Slow, counter-intuitive, and paid-for, to boot. Getting worse too, Charlotte tells me.

TV Remote Controls: There's no end of material in this one, and the recent comparisons of Windows Media Centre PC handsets with Apple's iMac/FrontRow remote control is only a part of the story. The whole operation of tv sets and recorders is worth looking at, including the implications of an iTunes model on TV design.

Pret a Manger Vegetarian Sushi: I picked one of these up recently for lunch, and while the Sushi was fine the packaging really irked me. There's a bunch of stuff that needn't be there, including a little plastic bottle and separate cap for the soy sauce, some plastic that's purely decorative, and a set of telescoping plastic and wood chopsticks that really aren't practical for reuse. A more environmentally-friendly redesign is needed methinks.

To come: Central Heating Controls, Mobile Phones (where to begin?), Moodle, DV Cameras. What else?

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Saturday, October 15, 2005


Over the next few weeks and months we'll be developing this blog as a part of the Futurilla network. WTDW is an ongoing project to document problems with product and UI design and to tentatively suggest some fixes. As we invite people to contribute here we'll be hoping to build up a resource on usability and product design and a focal point for better solutions. The first step is to build some outlines for articles and some broad categories, and I'll try to get around to the first part of this over this weekend.

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