Monday, March 4, 2013

Upgrading Technology Needs to be Easier

My wife and I have suffered through a few technology upgrades recently. I say 'suffered' because the process could have been a lot easier. Here's what happened:

My wife's laptop died and she needed a new computer. She had a backup but the operating systems of the backup and the new computer didn't match. So she could do a full restore. She had to install all her applications from scratch and then adjust them. And she had to move all her data back herself too. In some cases that was tricky because the operating system wants things in certain places and we had to jump through hoops to get the data in the right format.

We also upgraded phones. Again we couldn't just backup and restore the data because the operating system of the phone was older than that of the backup. We had to update the new phone first. And even when my wife did that she was missing all her apps because they didn't transfer from her old phone to her new computer when she synced it months ago. Instead, she had to install all her apps onto her computer so they could be transferred to her new phone.

Frankly, I found both processes a lot harder than they should have been and I'm finding that new versions of software that I've used for years, harder to use than before. The redesigned iTunes is a perfect example. The download feature is buried in the right corner at the top. Since I use that a lot to update apps I've purchased not finding it in the left navigation any more was very confusing.

The search feature in Word is another example: there are three levels of search and I usually want the third level so I have to click through a few controls every session so I can get to the controls I want. I find this needless, but I'm sure Microsoft changed this because the advanced search confuses people. So I am punished because I understand it and am a power user.

And I say all this as someone who has written about technology for years and have helped design teams with usability. Usability is, of course, the study of how people use things. What they find intuitive and what they can't use easily. The idea is to make products so easy to use it is effortless. Technology companies are failing in that practice, I think. Increasingly I find new products harder to use which means I am less likely to upgrade unless there is a compelling reason to do so.

My wife had to change computers, for example, her old one died. And I wanted the faster 4G LTE on my phone, which is why I upgraded that. But I'm not upgrading my desktop computer even though the operating system is two versions old. Instead, I'm likely to buy a new laptop. Why? Because it avoids a standard upgrade path. But I'm still thinking about it so I might forget the whole thing and like with my aging computer.

The bottom line here is this: technology is suppose to enhance our lives and make it easier but the effort to stay current is getting to be too hard and is not always an improvement. Technology companies would be wise to pay attention to this and make their products as effortless as possible.

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