Saturday, October 10, 2009

Prince Philip is right

While the Duke of Edinburgh mostly provokes rolled eyes and sighs with his gaffes, he is always forthright with his opinions - something sadly lacking these days. His latest comments, on user interface design, as quoted here by the BBC, are spot-on.

I'll just quickly add a smutty innuendo about his idea of making love involving either "lying on the floor, with a torch in your teeth, magnifying glass, instruction book" or "employing a grandson at age 10 to do it for you". There are Laws on the internet, after all ;-)

I have here two remotes, one for my (Wharfedale) TV and the other for my (Sony) DVD player. The TV control has 45 buttons, the DVD has 44. They look like abraded, battle-scarred hedgehogs. It's traditional at this point to quote Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, and I'm a traditionalist, so: "Perfection is reached not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away."

Are those 89 buttons all needed? No. I've a master's degree, and more than a decade's experience, in computer technology and I've no clue what half of them do! Of the ones I do understand, a bunch are completely useless:
  • I have a phenomenal memory for numbers, but even I can't remember what chapter to skip to in Basic Instinct if I want to watch Sharon Stone crossing her legs! DVD cases no longer contain a chapter listing card. The keypad is therefore worthless and would be better replaced by a non-volatile memory in the player (or perhaps on a memory stick) that lets me select bookmarks and remembers them when I put the disc back in.
  • The DVD control has buttons for a TV: volume up/down, AV, power. All completely useless as I don't have a Sony TV!
  • The eject button on the DVD player remote is actively harmful. I can't put a disc in from 20 feet away, so why let me eject the one that's in there? If I have to go to the box to put a disc in, I can press the button by the disc tray!
  • The TV control has a bunch of buttons which don't even seem to do anything - "subcode", "mix", "mode", "time", "p.std" and "ssm". Your guess is as good as mine!
Those buttons are mostly identical looking and feeling, suggesting that they are of equal status - which clearly isn't the case. Look at any old remote and you'll see half a dozen buttons with the silk-screened legend rubbed off the rubber pad (and the pad cracked at the sides in a really worn one). It'd be better to put half, or two thirds, of the buttons onto on-screen menus - where they can be given tooltips or even a "help" button to explain their function. This isn't rocket science. This is geeks designing for other geeks, not for the people who will actually use the product, and even they don't know what most of it does.

(Subtitle for the techies: it's EMACS vs Vi when the world wants Pico.)

- KoW

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