Friday, August 13, 2010

When an upgrade is a downgrade

A couple of weeks ago the cable TV company called me to pretty much tell me that I had to upgrade to a new system.. as my box was still analogue and it was scheduled to go out of service pretty soon.

So, yesterday I got this new box, with apparently tons of new channels. An on-screen browser and HDD recording.

And, what a sorry piece of shit that is !!

Before, I had a simple remote control and I could flip around those few (usually worthless and commercials-filled) channels.
Now I have this space-era remote control and a seemingly larger list of channels made of three digit numbers.. but switching between those channels is a chore.
Many are not included in my promotional "Big" course. So, I get lots of dummy channels I have to drag myself through.
I suspect they made it this way so that people get annoyed by having to move through blanks, and finally decide to buy some super package filled with channels they'll never watch.
The three digits input also needs to be done in the channels menu. One can't simply press 3 buttons and go to the damned channel.. that would be too easy.

Now the best part... Today I tried to record a movie. Then I decided that I wanted to stop the recording. But I couldn't find a way to do it !
During my attempts, I pressed record again, at which point the freaking box started recording the same movie again. That brought me to a limit beyond which one cannot even see other cable channels !

From the recordings menu, a right-click-like "sub-menu" button brings the option to delete a certain item. But only if the recording has completed !
The sub-menu on an program that is being recorded has no effect whatsoever. That seems to me like a strong sign of broken interface design.

Eventually I had to hit the "reset" button on the box.. which forced the system to an instantaneous reboot 8)

...this is why Apple is so succesful. It's not like they know something others don't know.. it's that they actually have a system in place where the user experience is a major element (at least on average).
Sure, those other big electronics companies employ a lot of smart people.. but the development direction and environment are wrong.
Internal bureaucracy eventually makes it impossible even for skilled interface designers to actually come up with something that is user-friendly.

The box is made by Panasonic where a friend of mine was an interface designer at.
Ironically, my friend is now leaving Panasonic and Japan altogether, among other things, because he realized that his effort into improving the user experience was being obscured by internal power struggles.

So, there you have it.. large companies that live in a world where bureaucracy and selfish interests of internal factions turns them into big stupid corporations.

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