Today's consumer electronics are too hard to use, largely due to useless features. Here's how to fix the problem.
This weekend I got to play with a variety of new electronics,
and my experiences were almost entirely negative. Almost every device I used
had too many features and was too hard to use. Here's a rundown of my bad
- I set up a Bluetooth headset. The headset itself is confusing
enough, but the phone's user interface is even worse. For example, I have
to push four buttons to get to a list of recent calls.
- I installed a camera and scanner without the benefit of
user manuals. This was a huge pain; both devices had rows of mysterious
buttons and confusing software.
- I helping my mother-in-law set up her TiVo. That was a
disaster—the interface completely baffled her. I like the TiVo interface,
but I do find it slow
These kinds of problems are all too common in today's
consumer electronics. Today's products have become so complicated that even tech-savvy folks have
difficulty figuring them out. Average consumers often just give up and
return confusing products. Things have gotten so bad that an entire industry has sprung up to help consumers figure out their electronics.
What should we do about this problem? One obvious answer is
to build simpler products with fewer features. The only problem is that consumers
want feature-packed products—even though they never use most of the features,
and just end up getting frustrated with all the bells and whistles. In short,
sell a streamlined product.
Or maybe you can. The one bright spot in my weekend is that
I finally got to play with an iPhone. The interface for the phone isn't perfect, but
it's pretty darn good. The thing that makes it work so well is that it hides a
very sophisticated set of features behind a simple and largely intuitive
interface. In my view, this is the key to making a truly successful product.
We might not be able to avoid "feature creep,"
but at least we can hide it behind a simple interface.