Thursday, February 25, 2010

Okay, one last check... yup. [Enter]. What? No! Stop!

Microsoft, I'm a Linux guy.  I like community-sourced software, and dislike behemoths that force people into a certain way of doing things.  Having said that, I like Windows 7.  It's really quite slick.  Lots of little things have been fixed, some of which I didn't even realize were "broken" until I saw them repaired.  Well done.  Oh, except for one thing...

Sometimes you just can't predict when things will appear on your screen, and input gets misinterpreted.  Like today, I was logging into my distance learning MBA program using IE8.  IE8 has been slow recently, something I intend to troubleshoot, but my remedy for now is to default to Firefox.  So I loaded IE8, started typing in the URL, and got tired of waiting for that "Internet Explorer is not the default browser" window to pop up so I hit enter, thinking that I would be able to stop the browser from loading my home page and instead load something useful.

As has happened many times before, the instant that I hit [Enter], Windows started drawing another box.  I have no idea what it said, and since it was on my screen for less than a quarter of a second, I have no idea what was chosen when I hit the Enter button.  All I know is that the URL field did not receive that carriage return.

No, it's not the first time.  I'm sure all of my readers know of situations where they were in the middle of typing something and a window launched at just the wrong moment.  My own mother confirmed this the other day, speaking of those times when you hit Enter and just half a second later (or less) the outline of a window appears.  ...and at that point you know your keyboard's input was redirected to that window instead of where you just were.  Sometimes that means I have made a change to my computer I don't know how to reverse, since I don't know what it was called. 

So Microsoft, is there some way that keyboard input could get switched over to a window after the window has been drawn?  After all, no human can truly answer yes to a question they haven't seen yet or have seen for less than 1/10 of a second.  That's my "missing use case" for this post -- somehow, despite improved calculators, better start menus, better taskbars, and searchable program lists (yay!!), this usability detail got missed, and it drives all of us nuts

Applause for Radio Shack

It's rare that a company gets highlighted here for something they do right.  There are so many products and services out there that really are fantastic, directly addressing the customers' needs and it's taken for granted.

I'd like to share with you one such discovery that got my attention.  Two-three months ago I went to Radio Shack needing a new battery for my GPS, hoping that even if they didn't have the battery, they would have the tools to help me get inside.  As usual, I found myself surrounded by electronic devices that few people would have any need for.  Yes, they have surge protectors and multimeters, but a lot of what they carried has limited appeal.  You can order satellite TV through them, and they have a small selection of wireless and cellular phones, but I didn't know what half that stuff was supposed to be.  As I walked back into the Radio Shack with the toolset I'd just bought to return it (the tools had only gotten me partway into the GPS's innards) I wondered just how long Radio Shack would be able to survive in the silicon valley given the multitude of alternatives with greater selection.  "Oh well," I thought, "not every major metropolitan area has a Fry's, and they can continue to be the hit-or-miss 7-Eleven equivalent of the electronics world."

Between that time and last week it seems Radio Shack stores all over this area underwent major changes.  Cell phones and their accessories are now a major part of what the store does.  The DC adapters I was after not only wasn't behind the counter requiring an associate to help, they were on full display.  Where there once was a small selection of cell phones and wireless phones now was a wide selection of GPS devices along with some of their accessories.  What about radio parts?  That's where the name "Radio Shack" came from, is it not?  Yes, they have those, in the back of the store in tidy organized drawers.  The service was helpful in determining that my DC adapter actually wasn't the cause of problems (the device itself has a loose connection), though I found myself helping other customers with the GPS wall in explaining the strengths and weaknesses of each brand.  Still, for a quick service station they were fairly knowledgable.

Three days later I needed an unusual battery for a remote control and visited another Radio Shack.  Same experience.

As I left the store, I realized that I had just witnessed what was probably at least hundreds of thousands of dollars in customer research about what customers buy and what is really needed in an electronics convenience store, and millions of dollars in remodeling and inventory changeout.

Radio Shack:  Well done.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

My Review of iRobot Roomba® 530

Originally submitted at iRobot

The Roomba 530 features our newest innovations in vacuum performance, room navigation, edge and corner cleaning, advanced anti-tangle technology and transitioning from carpets to hard floors.

  • Covers up to 3 rooms on a single battery charge*
  • Compact, self-charging Home Base®
  • ...

Pick up your things, but you'll love it

By M. J. Miller from San Jose, CA on 2/21/2010


4out of 5

Pros: Deep Cleaning Ability, Hassle Free Operation, Cleans Effectively, Kids love it, Covers Entire Room, Pet Friendly, Won't fall down stairs, Cleans Under Furniture

Cons: Stringy wire gets caught, Frequent Maintenance, Inefficient vacuum method, Hard to clean, Does Not Clean Stairs

Best Uses: Tile Floors, Carpeted Rooms, Hardwood Floors, Small Rooms, High Traffic Rooms

Describe Yourself: Pet Owner, College student, Homeowner, Busy household

My Robot's Name: Mo

Very rarely gets stuck.

Can set it loose to do a room and come back later to move it.

Can even navigate around chair legs even when all the chairs are pushed in under the dining room table.

When there's something wrong, it literally says so with a human voice and tells you how to correct the problem.

Pet hair and dust gets wound around the ends of the spokes for the brush and sweeper, difficult to clean.

If it were just a bit more methodical about how it vacuums, it would complete a room faster with more battery life left for additional rooms.


Friday, February 12, 2010

Assume nothing about the customer

This blog is mostly about what happens when someone assumes something about the customer that turns out not to be true.  For example, that Sears photo customers will always need someone to make photo copies for them, or that the "change battery" light on a smoke detector needs only to be illuminated at the moment that the low battery is detected.

Here's another one.  It's from the weekly mailer of "Big Lots," a discount department store chain that sells items that manufacturers have overproduced is too expensive to keep in inventory:
The Cricut Create(TM) personal electronic cutter combines the portability of the original Cricut Machine with the functionality of the Cricut Expression(TM)! step up includes DonJuan cartridge over $50 value, 6" x 12" cutting mat, power adapter & instructional DVD, no computer needed
I don't know what a Cricut Machine does.  I don't know what a Cricut Expression does. I don't know what a DonJuan cartridge is supposed to be. If it's used for scrapbooking I might be interested in getting it for my wife who's into that (we actually buy quite a bit of her scrapbooking stuff at Big Lots), but I honestly have no idea why I should buy this. 

The value proposition statement for a product should be written up not just so that engineering understands what thye're trying to build, but so that customers understand that it will address their needs.  Since your engineers understand your core business, the marketing message used to attract customers probably will be different and should not assume the customer knows what you do.  If after all is said and done 3 out of 4 grandmas still don't understand why anyone would buy the product, perhaps it's time to bring in a creative marketing agency.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Feed only my pet

I've got two cats. One eats store-bought food. He's a healthy eater, lean, and strong. The other has a weight problem. She's very rolly-polly, and eats in her spare time (which is almost all the time) so the vet put her on a special, low-calerie diet. The food costs an arm and a leg. 'course, both cats eat each others' food.

Then I was talking to someone who said they have a problem with raccoons coming in the dog door at night and eating the food.

What to do?

I've got an idea: when the pet bends down to eat, their pet license hits the side of the dish, right? Add a small RFID chip and when the right animal bends over, a door in the top of the dish opens that allows them access. No chip, no access. Wrong pet, no access.

If you think it's a good idea, help me bring it to market. This week, Quirky will bring to market somebody's idea for a new product. They do it every week. Trouble is, lots of ideas are submitted, and they'll only do the one that earns the highest number of votes. There are 28 other ideas this week.

Click here: to vote (I call it the "Petsecure Food Dish," to be renamed by Quirky voters if it wins).

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Fire detector needs a new battery

Per Santa Clara County code, there is a fire alarm in every bedroom of the house, including hallways. Since we have a gas furnace, gas range, and a gas fireplace, I decided carbon monoxide detectors would be a good idea too. Each of my fire alarms is the same model -- a Kidde, talking combination fire alarm. It will tell you whether there is a fire or whether it's a carbon monoxide alert. There is a separate red light that blinks if the battery is low.

One night I was awoken by "{BEEP!} LOW BATTERY!" Thinking it was just a fluke, I ignored it and tried to go back to sleep. About 5 minutes later, I heard it again. "{BEEP!} LOW BATTERY!" Hmmm... guess I better investigate. I walked around the house and looked at each of the fire alarms. No lights were blinking, each had a green light on indicating it was plugged into the house's electrical system and working properly.

This went on for hours, with me and my wife almost going to bed, then hearing the beep and running to where we thought it was coming from, going from room to room trying not to wake the kids in the process. In the end I discovered that the red "low battery" light would illuminate only when the unit was beeping or talking.

The product manager for this product must have written an engineering or QA requirement that read something like this, "red LED light illuminates if battery is low," instead of "red LED light will help customer find fire detector with low battery." That would have made all the difference in the world.