LAS VEGAS The bad news emerging from a Consumer Electronics Show panel seeking answers to the mounting complexityfor consumersof electronic devices was the dizzying complexity of the potential solutions proposed by the panelists.
"The underlying base is growing more and more complex," said panel member Gregg Vanderheiden, director of the Trace Research & Development Center at the University of Wisconsin. "There's nothing that's going to change that." Later, he added, "It's killing us. It's slowing the industry down."
The good news is that a number of industry organizations are developing novel but complicated approaches to easing the burden for consumers. Among the answers are devices, like the computers in "Star Trek," that understand spoken commands, the implementation of User Interface Sockets (UIS) that would allow a user to choose interface that best suits his need to control electronics devices. Through an emerging standard dubbed CEA128, the Consumer Electronics Association is also working on Task Model-based user interface initiative that provides a user the ability to control devices based on "tasks" he wants to get done.
Other industry attempts to make devices easier to use and connect include Digital Living Network Alliance and Ease of Use Round Table.
The bad news, however, is that none of the solutions now under consideration will instantaneously make the current generation of devices easier to use, or the next. Nor is the pell-mell pace going to slow in an industry that competes by bombarding consumers with products that are feature-heavy, stubbornly proprietary and persistently incompatible with one another.
Panelist Glen Stone, vice president at Sony Electronics Inc.'s U.S. Advanced Technology Center, noted that when he thinks about ease-of-use standards attempted in the past, "I just keep coming up with things that failed."
Paul Sorenson, principal human factors engineer at Intel, quoting the words of Bjarne Stroustrup, inventor of C++, summarized the difficulty of reversing the momentum of complexity: "I have always wished for my computer to be as easy to use as my telephone; my wish has come true because I can no longer figure out how to use my telephone."
The good news, according to Sorenson, is that consumer electronics companies previously too busy to consider the plight of the consumer are starting to pay attention to the human factor. "There's a huge change in the attitude of purely technical forums, and that's new," he said.