Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Not Always Right

This entry on is reinforcing my desire to order everything I ever want over the web so I never have to enter a store and talk to store help again. Especially a tech store. Actually, let me just reproduce the entry here for you:

Customer: “Hello, I just bought this iPod, and I can’t make it go.”

Me: “What’s the problem?”

Customer: “It won’t go.”

Me: “Okay, how exactly?”

Customer: “IT WON’T GO.”

Me: “Can I see your iPod?”

(The customer takes out iPod Touch and shows it to me. I turn it on and open up Safari.)

Me: “It seems to be working fine.”

(I hand it back to her. She presses the home button multiple times.)

Customer: “How did you do that? It’s not working.”

Me: “Ma’am, what kind of iPod is that?”

Customer: “iPod Touch.”

Me: “Yeah… so try TOUCHING one of the icons on the screen.”

(She does.)


Me: “Yeah, well.”

Look, since the first screen came out we UI makers have spent decades telling people through the systems we designed that the screen is dead. You need a knob or buttons to tune the radio, you need to press quickly to cycle through digits in an alarm, you have to look at the remote and hit the special button to cycle through system entries for the VCR, you press the arrows on the microwave to change the cooking time or hit some timer button repeatedly, we use mice and pads and trackballs to move pointers and we are supposed to laugh at pets and small children when they try to paw moving things on the TV screen. 40 years of UI experiences right there: the screen only displays. (Then UI designers had the gall to name the paradigm of moving a mouse to make something on the screen, at least a foot away from the hand doing the moving, happen 'Direct Manipulation'.)

Sure this has now changed with tablet PCs, but those never took off with the general population, and you still need a stylus for most of them. Little personal organizers also come with styluses. And yes, touch screens really are nothing new; I remember seeing billboards for touch-screen systems in the mid-to-late eighties when I was visiting Brussels -- an HP business system, with the big slogan "Touchez l'ecran. L'ecran responds" or something close to that because I cannot spell French -- but that system did not take over the world, the mouse-based systems did. (I do remember my mother's answer to me telling her excitedly of this new computer I had seen an ad for was of course something about greasy fingerprint. Bit of a wet blanket, but I now fully understand where she was coming from.)

To this day, every touch-activated kiosk has some form of "TOUCH HERE TO START" on the screen because else the majority of people will not know what to do, and certainly will not try touching screens in public without knowing on forehand that is a reasonable thing to do, lest they look in public as 'stupid' as a small child or cat pawing something on the screen. And even then, most kios touch screens have such bad tracking you end up looking like a moron anyway, repeatedly mashing the screen until you walk away in disgust. You know where you got to see touch screens widely deployed? All Star Trek series after the original one. As in, touch screens are Sci-Fi.

But not to this snotty store kid, who probably even rewrote this exchange to make him or herself look better. Well, one day they will be older too, and their years of experience with technology will stand in the way of "just" knowing something so "simple" it is worth being oblique and patronizing about to a customer, instead of sharing the joy of something new finally hitting the consumer market.