Tuesday, December 17, 2013

What's eating Windows 8

It's been over a year since the release of Windows 8, and with articles like this, one must ask, "What's eating Windows 8?"

It's actually eating itself.

If Windows 8 is reverting back to have the Start menu button, it sounds more like Microsoft is scrambling and doesn't really know how to handle the low adoption rate.  It's reactionary.  And because of the low response,  Microsoft is no longer confident in their design - since they haven't really committed to the Metro/Modern UI style despite producing hardware along with its new OS.

It's indicative of their Desktop tile, something I noticed right away when I was in awe of the tile beauty.  "Pretty squares," I call it.  When you have such a dichotomy in design, it tells your user that "we haven't really progressed, and this is an experiment [much like Vista] but please, we hope you like this [half-assed design attempt]", to put it bluntly.  It's like a dual-boot version of Windows in order to create embraceable change, but instead, you have two homes.  Or it's a new girlfriend giving you mixed messages.  But I digress.

To put it into context, I've owned the MS Surface tablet Pro (64GB) for almost a year now, and still, many of my friends who don't work in technology haven't seen the device before.  And there are some who work in tech who have never seen the tablet in real life.  People's first reaction is always, "Weird!"  But it stops there and they don't ask to use it for fear it might give them a disease.

The problem with the Surface is that there were so few apps, and the market is still very small.  I was looking to find use for this device for the past year and haven't really done so until I finally upgraded to MS Office 2013 and using Skydrive.  This means instead of using EverNote to take notes during meetings, I can finally use MS Word, save it to SkyDrive and then access is at my desktop or anywhere in the world (like I travel all that much).  And the keyboard serves it purpose, finally.

But in doing so, I'm running the Desktop version of Windows 8, not the Metro version.  And then they try to repeat this design paradigm in MS Word's File menu to create more confusion.  Let me just say, the experience is jarring and I don't like it.  So it's back to using EverNote for me!  At least I know the experience will be the consistent through and through.

The only advantage I see to carrying around the MS Surface tablet is when I am working at home because I don't want to carry my larger, heavier Dell laptop in a second bag.  And when my laptop fails, I use it to access my emails and reply to them using a semi-proper keyboard.  That's about it.  Beyond that and note-taking, or using it as a Skype device because all my other devices are being used for other purposes, the Surface tablet is left to being the backup.

Microsoft is still not clear on the purpose of Windows 8 and the Metro design.  They haven't thought this through.  When you hang on to the past (of the older Desktop), you don't let the present (Metro) shine.  They shouldn't exist together.

And that's as clear as that gets.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Design changes Behavior

I recently bought a BMW E92 M3 where every bit of user experience is 1000-times better than what I was driving before - a Ford.  It was a great departure from what I was used to.  Everything on the Ford was manual, including the transmission.  There were dials and knobs to tend to controlling the climate, navigation was a Tom-Tom, and switching the lights on were intentional as well as switching on the windshield wipers.

On the BMW, the climate control was automatic (but only when you press the "Auto" button, which I actually keep in manual to keep some semblance of control,) navigation was voice activated (or done through iDrive), telephone can be voice activated, mirrors dim automagically at night, wipers are rain-sensing, car audio volume increases with the speed to compensate for road and wind noise, and the list goes on.

Everything about the BMW was meant to anticipate the user's needs.  And I have two distinct features to talk about here that actually warrants discussion in that it changes the driver's behavior.

The first is the seatbelt "butler".  Since the M3 is a coupe, that meant the seatbelts were located way far back by the B-pillar.  The only way to reach it is to stretch like Inspector Gadget, saying the magic words, "Go-go gadget arms!"  But instead of doing that, the BMW has mechanical arms to hand you the seatbelt so you don't have to reach for them.  But of course, this service has a time expiration.  Because if you don't grab it for about 10 to 20 seconds, the arms retracts back into its hole thus releasing the seatbelt and you have to perform some gymnastics to retrieve it.  Because of this time expiration, instead of tending to the radio to put on tunes for my drive, I have to tend to safety first.  This time event expiration has modified my behavior in essence.  Not too drastic as missiles won't fire if I don't reach for it in time, but my muscles get nicely stretched.

The second feature relates to everyone on the road wondering why the heck do BMW drivers cut people off so often?  Well, non-BMW drivers will now have the answer here.  The lane-changing indicator lever is one where you just push either up or down to activate the blinker for right or left movement (respectively).  When the BMW driver pushes on the lever, the indicators blink three times before it gets canceled.  That means the driver has three seconds to change lanes.  That also means in three seconds, if you're the other driver observing the behavior of the BMW driver changing lanes abruptly, it actually isn't their fault.  It's the design of the blinkers that is dictating the behavior of the BMW driver!

Granted, there are arguments in that the BMW driver could just persistently push the lever and give themselves enough time to make the lane-change, but being in such a nice, plush cockpit where the car does almost everything for you, why bother?  Yes, there is a setting in the iDrive where you can deactivate the three-second blinking and keep it manual, but what fun is that?  Why make me think?

But is that enough motivation to endanger the safety of others?  One might also argue that some BMW drivers probably don't have an IT degree to operate the iDrive and hence cannot be responsible for their non-action to get rid of this three-second blinker.  And what does the BMW driver know?  The design is dictating the user behavior without them knowing about it.

So if you ever think your design decisions have no impact on the user, think again.  Those who are behind the scenes designing products need an utmost ethical stance and responsibility for their actions and decisions.  Without this stance and knowing the consequences of these decisions, whether intended or not, chaos will appear.  Apparently, for those non-BMW drivers, it may already have.