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Americans find most gadgets too complex.
Posted by: Seacrest
Date: May 15, 2006 10:22PM

I am not Ryan Seacrest, and I do not approve this message.

Edited 2 time(s). Last edit at 05/15/2006 11:07PM by Seacrest.
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Re: Americans find most gadgets too complex.
Posted by: Mike Sellers
Date: May 15, 2006 11:30PM
Part of the problem is no one knows how to write a clear, concise manual. A month ago I was setting up a small LCD TV for a friend. I tried deciphering the manual for thirty minutes just to figure out how to program the channels. Finally, I gave up and just started punching buttons until I hit the right combination. Just this past weekend, I put a new head on my lawn trimmer and I swear the instructions were translated twice before making it to English. Once again, I gave up and just figured it out on my own.
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Re: Americans find most gadgets too complex.
Posted by: davester
Date: May 16, 2006 12:27AM
Yes and no Mike. You are correct that many manuals out there are absolute crap (my mom's LG phone manual for example). However, most devices out there would require very little in the way of a manual if only they had a decent user interface. I have friends who work for tech companies as technical writers who write manuals. In cases where the engineers rule the roost, the devices/software have arcane, impossible to figure out UIs and the manuals can't fix the problem (and the manuals definitely don't help if they are written by engineers (most of whom seem to be functionally illiterate IMHO). In places where collaboration occurs, the UIs are user-based and the manuals can be skimpier and still get the point across. I have so many gizmos for which both the UI and the manual are absolute garbage

"In science it often happens that scientists say, 'You know that's a really good argument; my position is mistaken,' and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn't happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion." (1987) -- Carl Sagan
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Re: Americans find most gadgets too complex.
Posted by: kap
Date: May 16, 2006 12:31AM
Foreign companies use their English speaking employees to write manuals for American consumers. It's a headache trying to decipher their English language into American language.


SoCal for now.
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Re: Americans find most gadgets too complex.
Posted by: Silencio
Date: May 16, 2006 12:52AM
Yet another reason making something as easy and intuitive to use as the iPod is a LOT harder than it looks. If people find gadgets too complex, then perhaps that's one big reason why the iPod is such a success.
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Re: Americans find most gadgets too complex.
Posted by: guitarist
Date: May 16, 2006 01:18AM
I would also add that the iPod's simplicity is deceptive, in light of how mainstream it's become. It's actually harder (for the unwashed masses) to benefit from all its features, or to even figure out how to get started with the thing than most people realize.

I worked briefly at the Apple Store during the 2005 xmas holidays, when iPod sales were white hot. Keep in mind, mom and dad and sis and aunt mary and uncle bob got 'em for a gift last year, and still may not have figured it out.

We had streams of customer questions and frustrations and confusions pouring in daily (not surprising for just after the holiday) and it reminded me that unless you're already pretty comfortable using gadgets, the iPod can require a fair amount of attention for a beginner to get started. "Why can't it do this? How come it does that?" "Can I put my music on my friend's iPod?" "Why can't I download movies?" "Does it play MS media files?" "How do you turn it off?" and these people aren't stupid, they're just busy people who are curious and unfamiliar.

Even the smart, elegant, easy devices require attention, patience, and trial and error before getting the full benefit. Imagine how frustrating the badly designed devices are. (I wouldn't know, as I rarely use anything other than Apple or Apple-friendly products, which are usually well designed)
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Re: Americans find most gadgets too complex.
Posted by: mikebw
Date: May 16, 2006 01:48AM
I think most people lack intuition or resourcefulness when it comes to figuring out such devices. This is why many products fail or never gain much popularity outside of a niche market. One notable exception is Windows whose success remains a mystery to me.

Reading can help educate the average American. I'm not a huge fan of it but most questions I have about technology in general can be answered by reading about it online either at the manufacturers website or on some support forum.

This is where resourcefulness comes into play. This forum is one such example. Find a way to get answers. If there is a decent support community more people will have success with the device and be able to share that knowledge with others.
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Re: Americans find most gadgets too complex.
Posted by: guitarist
Date: May 16, 2006 03:10AM
With all respect to mikebw's point, I think humans are plenty smart and our consumer technology, and the people who design it, treat us disrespectfully. The blame isn't on individuals not being "resourceful" enough to figure things out, it's that our techological servants (Apple being a bright exception) aren't serving us as well as they should, as invisibly as they're capable of. Yet.

Do you remember how many days you had to invest in learning how to use your new refrigerator? What manuals did you read? What online resources were helpful in mastering this advanced consumer appliance? None.

As technology marches on, and engineering and design advances--with the goal being to serve humans, rather than waste our time, patience, and resourcefulness (we have better things to do) the devices that serve us will improve and become more transparent.

Right now the fastest and most advanced consumer devices have barely reached the intelligence of an insect. In 20 years, they'll be closer to the intelligence of a rodent. They still have a long way to go.
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Re: Americans find most gadgets too complex.
Posted by: mikebw
Date: May 16, 2006 04:07AM
Oh I agree totally. Products could (and should) be much better if more attention were paid to interface design.

People shouldn't have to work so hard to figure things out all the time, I was just saying that for those of us who enjoy learning independently or even like a little challenge, technology can be something of a hobby to learn and understand.

It will be interesting to see how technology companies develop their human interfaces over the next 20 years as you say. Will speech recognition finally become a part of everyday life? Will holographic or 3D interfaces mature enough?

One strength of the human mind is curiosity, although it seems some people lack this.

Do people want a device that can do everything for them or a device that can assist them to accomplish anything they can conceive independently? I would rather be empowered than restricted, personally.
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Re: Americans find most gadgets too complex.
Posted by: modelamac
Date: May 16, 2006 06:18AM
It is funny that guitarist mentions refrigerators. So many of my customers don't read the manual (usually confusing anyway).

Most do not understand that all cooling takes place in the freezer, and the fresh food section is a parasite, dependent on the freezer for cold air.

They don't realize that of the 2 controls, only the refrigerator/fresh food control is an electrial control, determining the temperature level maintained.

The freezer control is usually just a door allows more or less air to stay in the freezer. The higher the setting, the less air goes into the fresh food section. Since the sensor, in that section, depends on the amount and temp of the cold air coming from the freezer, setting the freezer control up causes the compressor to run longer, even to maintain the same temp in the refrig.

The first thing they do when the refrig seems to be a bit warm is to turn both controls to max, guaranteeing that the compressor runs long and hard to try to get to an impossible goal, as very little air comes into the refrig at those settings.

Ed (modelamac)

I think I will just put an OUT OF ORDER
sticker on my head and call it a day.
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Re: Americans find most gadgets too complex.
Posted by: $tevie
Date: May 16, 2006 09:23AM
There's something wrong when you have to re-learn how to use a gadget every time you buy a new one -- even from the same manufacturer. Knowing how to use a Canon digital camera in no way prepares you for knowing how to use a Nikon. Even a CD boom-box is too complicated these days. Sure, you can read the manual and learn how to do what you want to do, but I began to get weary of having a learning curve on every doggoned thing I bought, even the coffee maker...

I wish there was some sort of system where upon purchasing an item, you could set it to "user level" -- say, novice, intermediate, advanced, power user -- and when set, the other functions would disappear even if you accidentally hit the key combos that would have normally activated them. Then as you master a device you could choose to advance your level, or leave it right where it is and never worry about having bizarre icons appear on the LCD or flashing messages onscreen. Or whatever.

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Re: Americans find most gadgets too complex.
Posted by: mikebw
Date: May 17, 2006 02:42AM
Sounds kind of like the "Simple Finder" option in OS 9.

The way I learned to use computers was basically to go through every menu and experiment with every option, remembering it all along the way. I have no fear when it comes to trying things out in that fashion, so it was easy for me to do that. A lot of people I think are afraid to do anything or try anything with their computers or other devices and as a result never really learn anything about it.
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