Alarm Mode != Silent

Your classical bedside alarm clock has three modes, typically set using a hardware switch:

  1. On
  2. Off
  3. Alarm

When it’s “on” it makes noise. When it’s “off” it makes no noise. And, when it’s in “alarm” mode it will make some noise at some predetermined time in the future, which can be set, but will otherwise make no noise until then.

The Apple iPhone, on the other hand, has just two modes, set using a hardware switch:

  1. [blank]
  2. [orange]

When the phone is in “[blank]” mode it makes noises. When it’s in “[orange]” mode, it will vibrate rather than ring, and will make some noise at some predetermined time in the future, but will otherwise make no noises until then.

I mention all of this mostly because an old guy in NY has been in the news this week after he interrupted an orchestra performance with an alarm, when he thought his phone was in “silent” mode.

This has kicked off a big debate about the design of the mute switch.

John Gruber thinks it works just the way it should, or at least, says that if it didn’t work that way it would cause even more problems – which is correct, I think.

Andy Ihnatko thinks that mute should mean mute (i.e. [orange] = “off” rather than [orange] = “alarm”)

Marco Arment argues…

The user told the iPhone to make noise by either scheduling an alarm or initiating an obviously noise-playing feature in an app. The user also told the iPhone to be silent with the switch on the side. The user has issued conflicting commands, and the iPhone can’t obey both.

Actually, that’s not correct. By selecting [orange] mode the user has put their phone in alarm mode, not silent mode, which, doesn’t actually exist, unless you turn the phone off completely. So, the phone is doing exactly what it was told to do.

I think that Apple could do a better job of describing the two modes that are set using this hardware switch.

The first thing they need to do is replace the icon.

Currently, when you switch into [orange] mode (i.e. “alarm” mode) , the following icon is displayed temporarily on the screen:

That’s confusing!

This is all a new user has to help them discover what this switch does.

Having said that, it’s not obvious what the correct icon would be – it’s actually pretty complex mode to describe in one small picture: “vibrate rather than ring, but otherwise make noises I’ve asked you to make”.

How would you solve this problem? Can you think of a better icon? Or is there a hardware solution?

When technology gets out of the way

I’m a sucker for sport generally and live sport especially – see previous posts here on Olympics, Football World Cup & European Championships and even previous Rugby World Cup events.

If they keep score I’ll probably watch it, and might even get up in the middle of the night to make sure I can influence the outcome.

Indeed one of the all-time top posts on this blog is Just tell them it’s sport – although that appears to have more to do with the fact that it contains the words “shower naked with a group of men” and “dress up in lycra” which are apparently both popular Google search terms!

The big downside of watching these big events live on TV is having to deal with adverts, which I otherwise mostly manage to avoid.

Here in NZ we haven’t quite descended to the depths of US sports coverage, where networks have the ability to call time-outs during the game if they are not getting enough stoppages. But, we are slowly getting closer.

The latest slippage is the insertion of a 90 second ad break between the anthems/hakas and the start of the game. It’s an annoying intrusion after all the ceremony is completed and everybody is ready to get going. Even more so at the ground, where all of the players are left standing in position waiting for the referee to get the signal from their TV overlords so they can start the match.

It wouldn’t be so bad if the ads themselves weren’t so terrible.

For example, this horrible “advertisement” for a Panasonic television, which is featuring here during the Rugby World Cup:

The first 20 seconds are a long list of irrelevant and intimidating technical jargon.

The last 10 seconds are even worse, portraying their target customer as a freak who is more than a few biscuits short of a full packet.

The number of people who care if their television has a “built in high definition SD card viewer for media playback and program recording” is infinitesimally small.

Rather than trying to impress with the advanced componetry they should focus on what the technology allows real people to do – surely the manufacturer can think of something more inspiring than barking at your dog over Skype?

The benchmark in this area continues to be set by Apple. The repeated message in the iPad adverts is “it’s going to change the way we do things everyday” – in other words: it’s not what the software/hardware does, it’s what the user does.

So, I’m agitated that Panasonic have chosen to intrude into an event I’m excited about watching and having been force fed their marketing I’m left with the impression that the Viera is a complicated overspec’d piece of technology that only propeller heads and nutbags will love.

Nice job!

Previous Rugby & World Cup Posts:

  • Are the All Blacks winning more than ever? July 2007 – yes!
  • Dark Days October 2007 – thoughts following our exit from the previous World Cup in 2007, in which I pin the blame on all of us (see also: Whatever makes you nervous) and also predict a NZ vs Australia final in 2011 based on historical patterns – before the draw was even made.
  • Re-invigorating the All Blacks December 2007 – more is less and variety is the spice of life.
  • Third Largest? September 2008 – yes, it’s exciting to have it here, but let’s not get carried away!
  • Rugby World Cup 2011 December 2008 – after the draw was made, in which I predict the semi-finalists and finalists three years out (not actually looking too bad at this point, with the exception of under-estimating Australia)
  • 31-December December 2008 – further proof that Richie McCaw is exceptional.

I <3 EFT-POS

Here is an idea:

An EFT-POS terminal with card scanners on both sides of the slot, so it doesn’t matter which way you swipe your card.

I’m always interested to see the lengths that the people who make the terminals and the retailers who use them go to in order to try and educate people how to use them successfully.  The little pictorial representations of the magnetic strip, or the line of numbers are my favourite.  But they are worse than useless – perhaps it’s just me, but I seem to swipe the wrong way around 100% of the time, when pure chance would suggest better odds than that.

I’m not an expert, but I’m guessing that my solution would add a trivial amount to the cost of a terminal and would eliminate the problem completely.

While I’m at it, here is another idea:

An EFT-POS terminal with account buttons for “Cheque” and “Savings” but no “Credit” option – especially for those retailers that don’t accept credit card payments.

Not accepting credit card payments is pretty common, and yet the state of the art solution for these users is a bit of sellotape and a piece of cardboard saying “No Credit!!!”

Seriously, is this a 3M conspiracy?

For good measure, a third idea:

An EFT-POS terminal which doesn’t take twice as long to process Chip & PIN card transactions

If your bank has not already upgraded you to a Chip & PIN capable card, and you have any say in the matter, then I encourage you to resist as long as you can.  At least until they can explain a benefit that accrues to you rather than to them (if there is such a benefit, I’m not aware of it).

Here is how a typical Chip & PIN transactions goes, in my experience:

  1. You hand the card to the checkout person (let’s call her Sherl).
  2. Sherl swipes the card in the normal fashion.
  3. The terminal says something like “Please insert card”.
  4. Sherl looks confused and tries to find the correct place to insert said card, or says something along the lines of “oh, you’ve got one of those fancy new cards, have you!” and much hilarity ensues.
  5. Eventually she finds the slot and you enter your PIN number.
  6. Sherl removes the card and hands it back to you, at which point the transaction is declined because the card was removed too early.
  7. You explain that you need to leave the card in until it tells you to remove it, and after a bit of confusion you repeat steps 1 thru 5 again.
  8. Minutes pass.  Meanwhile everybody behind you in the queue starts to get restless.
  9. Finally the transaction is approved. Sherl can remove your card from the terminal and you can get on with your day.

Please, in the very least the terminal should display an obvious message telling operators they need to leave the card in place, or (even better) build in some tolerance so that if it is removed too early it can be re-inserted without having to start the whole dance over.

I was interested to notice our closest supermarket have disabled the Chip & PIN feature on their terminals – so if you try to insert your card in the slot it just tells you to swipe in the traditional fashion.  I guess they have discovered that the additional faffing around is not a price worth paying in order to get the benefits of additional security?  Either way, it ironically adds yet another failed step, as I’m just getting in the habit of inserting rather than swiping and now they’ve introduced an element of doubt because I don’t know which stores support it and which don’t.  Look out for more sellotape soon, I predict.

Last but not least, while we’re on the topic, an idea for the banks:

Why not load my cheque account details onto my credit card, so I don’t have to carry two separate bits of plastic around with me?

Back in the last century I was a customer of BankDirect and they did exactly that – a combined VISA & EFT-POS, which came in any colour you like as long as that’s black (I liked).  So, it’s obviously not a limitation of technology, just one of inclination and motivation.

I realise that criticising EFT-POS is almost unpatriotic in New Zealand – we’ve had it here since the 80s, before just about anybody else in the whole world, don’t you know!

There have been over 8 billion transactions processed through the system.  Per capita we use EFT-POS twice as much as anywhere else.  According to the Reserve Bank 60% of transactions use this system, and the volume and value of these transactions are reported as general indicators of activity in the economy.

For each of individually, having a detailed record of your purchases makes it much easier to keep track of your spending, if you’re so inclined.

I’m a huge fan of EFT-POS, to the point of being mocked about it on occasion.  I love not having to carry cash.  Three years living in London nearly got me back in the habit, but I quickly reverted once back in NZ.  Recently I’ve even scanned my other cards (drivers license etc) onto my phone and ditched my wallet altogether for a funky leather iPhone case which has a pouch for my EFT-POS cards.

So, given all of this, it’s pretty disappointing to see how little innovation there has been.  And, depressing that the “improvements” that are coming actually make it much worse.

What do you think?  Is there anything we can do?

PS thanks to all of the people who replied when I tweeted some of these ideas earlier in the year – you made this post much better than it would have been otherwise:

Google: Fade or Brain Fade?

Last week Google made another interesting small tweak to their home page.

When you first load the page all that is displayed is the logo, the text box and the two buttons:

In other words, nothing but the absolute necessary for the visitor who just wants to search.  The text box has the focus, so you can simply type away.  (I’ll leave the reader to consider where the “I’m feeling luckly” button fits in all of this minimalism).

If you move your mouse then all of the other links are revealed, with a subtle fade-in:

I can’t decide if this is clever or too clever.

What do you think?

Notes on just working

I receive a PowerPoint slide deck via email.

I double-click to open it and get this error message:

PowerPoint Error

That’s a bit confusing.  It was just a couple of days ago that I was rudely interrupted by Microsoft AutoUpdate.  I had stopped whatever it was I was trying to do at the time to wait for the update to download and install (I’ve learnt from previous experience that it doesn’t like running in the background, and insists on constantly grabbing the focus, so I just waited while it did its thing).

Anyway … what to do?

I click “Yes”, and end up on a Mac Office 2008 support page headed:

I can’t open an Office document after I install Office 2008 SP2 Update

Looks promising.

“This is a known issue with Office 2008 for Mac Service Pack 2 (12.2.0) that prevents some Open XML Format files from opening.”

In other words, the problem is because I have the most up-to-date version.

<sigh>

They promise a fix at some point in the future, but that’s not much use to me right now.

There are however eleven different possible solutions listed.

The first two start “Save your Excel workbook…”.  So, clearly this is not just a problem with PowerPoint, but you would think they could have at least had a custom error page for the specific application I was using.

The third “solution” is: “Save your PowerPoint presentation, such as .pptx, .pptm, or .potx, by using 2007 Microsoft Office Suite Service Pack 2 (SP2) for Windows.”

All well and good, but it’s not my file and I don’t run Windows.

The fifth solution is: “Save your document to .doc, .xls, or .ppt format by using Office 2008 for Mac 12.1.9 Update or an earlier version.”

(the fourth, in case you’re counting, is another Excel only solution)

And so on…

My second favourite recommend solution, further down the list is: “Use the AppleTime Machine to roll back to Office 2008 for Mac 12.1.9 Update or an earlier version.”

But the best, by some distance, is this one: “Remove Office manually, reinstall Microsoft Office 2008 for Mac from the original installation media, and then upgrade to Office 2008 for Mac 12.1.9 Update. Do not upgrade to Microsoft Office 2008 for Mac Service Pack 2 (12.2.0) from Microsoft AutoUpdate.”

I kid you not!

At the bottom of the page is a customer survey:

Microsoft Support Survey

I click “No” and then try to open the file in Keynote.

It just works … first time.

What’s in it for me?

I’ve been interested to watch the response to the new Trade Me design, which was launched this past week.

There has been a pretty caustic reaction on the message boards, with some long time members getting a bit worked up.

It’s amusing, from the outside at least, to see everybody asking for the old design back, forgetting that they hated that design too when it was first launched.

This is not the first time that Trade Me has changed the design of the site.

In fact, it has only ever changed.

There was a good article in Slate earlier this year about the controversial Facebook re-design, which I think is relevant:

“How can I be so sure that you’ll learn to like the re-design? Because you did the last two times Facebook did it. In 2006, Facebook added the original news feed to its site.  People hated it. They said the feed cluttered their home pages and violated their privacy. [CEO Mark Zuckerberg] responded with a blog post titled, ‘Calm down. Breathe. We hear you.’ Facebook tweaked the feed a bit, but the redesign stuck. Zuckerberg’s instinct was right on. In time, the news feed became Facebook’s signature feature, the part of the site that everyone checked first. Last summer, Facebook redesigned its front page to give more weight to the news feed. Again, millions protested. But once more, people learned to love the new site—stats show members started using Facebook more often.”

That’s an important lesson: watch what people do and react to that, rather than paying too much attention to what they say they are going to do.

The numbers will quickly tell you if you’ve got it right or messed up!

I remember when Nigel was working on a tab re-design, to accommodate a new “Sell” tab. I was quite fond of the existing design and thought it looked better with only four tabs. But, luckily he didn’t listen to me, because that change turned out to be one of the single most successful design changes ever made to the site (and blindingly obvious in hindsight).

So, with my past track record in mind, there are three things about this latest design that I think are noteworthy…

Does mark-up make a difference?

Trade Me have called the new design a “clean and modern layout”.

Maybe tabs that actually look like tabs are now classical? I’m not sure?

Is fixed-width the new black? On the surface at least, it’s a bit ironic to move to a fixed-width design in response to larger screen sizes.  On the other hand, I’m sure that working with a fixed size canvas will make it significantly easier to make design changes to the body of pages in the future.

I wonder if most of the cleaning and modernising they are talking about has actually occurred under the covers.

The HTML that makes up the new home page has changed significantly.

The <table> tags and one square pixel spacer images of yesterday have been replaced by CSS and some shiny new semantic mark-up.

Although, there is still one remaining <table> tag (for old times sake?):

<table id="PagingFooter" cellpadding="1" cellspacing="3" border="0" width="100%">
<tr><td colspan="3" align="center">
<h1 id="MoreLink"><a href="/listings-feature.htm">More homepage features...</a></h1>
</td></tr>
</table>

I’d be interested to understand what has motivated this change.

No doubt there was a lot of cludgy old mark-up to clean-up, and it’s great to see this happening.  But when I see new HTML like this, I can’t help but wonder if the inmates are running the asylum:

<div class="Widget Corner TL"><!-- ie --></div>
<div class="Widget Corner TR"><!-- ie --></div>
<div class="Widget Corner BL"><!-- ie --></div>
<div class="Widget Corner BR"><!-- ie --></div>

Perhaps I’m just showing my age, but how is that an improvement?

On dancing chickens etc…

The first thing that many people would have noticed in the new design is the larger and now animated adverts dancing about in the header, sidebar and even in the body of the home page.

I’d be lying if I tried to defend these. The dancing chicken that filled this space on the first day wasn’t a great start, and the fact that there were some early bugs which meant that ads were in some cases overlapping with other content only made it worse.

Up until now Trade Me has been one of the few sites of any scale that refused to host animated adverts. There was a simple reason for this, as explained by Sam a few years ago when he said: “Users don’t like them, so we don’t have them”.

For similar reasons the ads used in the old design were smaller than the industry standard dimensions and had strict size requirements in order to ensure they were fast loading.

MG from Trade Me had this to say on an IAB forum just over a year ago:

“The best results we are seeing from flash placements within Trade Me are those with input fields for valid consumer benefit (mortgage calculator, airline departure/arrival locations, etc). Practical usage wins out over gratuitous animation. Movement doesn’t not [sic] necessarily lead to increased click-thoughs but can be relevant for brand positioning. A case of working out what you’re trying to achieve and developing a suitable ad & placement schedule to deliver to your objectives.

That said, from the industry results I’ve been party to, Trade Me’s [click thru rate] from Tab & Tower static gifs have out-performed their flash equivalents (from other publishers) on a [cost per impression] basis every time. But I don’t get to see the full campaign results from too many advertisers … is anyone prepared to present any campaign results that dispute this claim?”

I don’t think that users like slow and distracting ads any more now than they did back then, so it would seem brave to reverse that position.

It would be interesting to see the impact on what people actually do in response to these. Do they click on these annoying ads more? Does it change at all the way they engage with the site?

This is my newly formed general theory about animated or otherwise intrusive ads: the annoying-ness of the advertising on any given website is inversely proportional to revenue growth.

Perhaps the first derivative is the explanation in this case?

Something for everybody

They say a change is as good as a holiday. But there is also nothing worse than hearing about how great somebody else’s holiday was!

It seems to me that the biggest mis-step with this change is that all of the obvious benefits are internal.  There really isn’t anything in it at all for all of the people who use the site.

In fact, some small features have been removed, such as the ability to customise the sidebar links and the ability to search within a single region (actually you can still do this, it’s just one click further away).

I’m a fan of removing under-used features, to avoid a bloated application. But, in the absence of anything new to compensate, the vocal minority who did use those features which have been dropped will naturally be annoyed.

It’s a shame that there weren’t some new features included in this release, as a bit of Fire & Motion.

Fact vs Opinion

The team at Trade Me has changed a lot since the last major re-design in 2006.  I have a lot of respect for all of them, and I think it’s good to see them start to stamp their own personality on the site.

Will any of these changes make a material difference? I’m not sure. They will take a while to get used to, and hence give people something else to think about, other than using the site, until they do.  But, I’m sure most will manage and life will go on.

I’m sure that the team will be listening to all of the feedback, and keeping a close eye on the numbers.

The rest of us can but watch and throw stones from the sidelines :-)

What do you think of the changes? Are they growing on you yet?