Samsung ATIV SmartPC: Be very careful when buying in Canada

Among the Windows 8 devices I have been very anxious to see are Samsung’s ATIV SmartPC line. There are two main versions, the 500T, powered by an Atom processor, and the 700T powered by a Core I5 processor (note there is also a Windows RT version of the ATIV).

In particular, I was really looking forward to seeing the 500T. With the Atom processor, it runs a full version of Windows 8, rather than running Windows RT. The Atom processor would also seem to give better battery life, and keeps the price more in line with what people want to pay for this type of device. And the kicker (for me, anyway) is the inclusion of the S-PEN and an active digitizer to support note-taking, a big bonus in my books.

Based reviews like this, I was pretty excited.

Well, now comes the problem…I live in Canada.

As in the US, there are two different SKUs for the 500T in Canada (XE500T1C-A01CA  and XE500T1C-A02CA). The first does not include the keyboard dock, the second does.

But…

The versions being sold in the US (for slightly cheaper) both include the S-PEN/active digitizer. Not so for the versions in Canada. Samsung Canada has confirmed to me via Twitter that the Canadian versions do not have the pen, and reviews I have seen indicate that they will not even work with other Active Digitizer pens.

Others may not place quite as much important on the pen as I do, but this makes the device a non-starter for me.

I have received no justification from Samsung as to why Canadians should pay more for reduced capability. I would love to see their reasoning.

Don’t Pave Around Your IT Obstacles!

I came across a news story (note the link seems to now be broken) yesterday about a hydro pole in the middle of the road in Quebec. In case the link breaks (they often do on the Canoe.ca site) here is the picture:

Apparently, a contract was put out to widen the road, but no one thought to involve Hydro Quebec. The contractor followed his instructions to the letter, and widened the road, paving right around the hydro pole in the process. In fact, it looks from the picture like they did a fine fine to – it looks very professional. The contractor is quoted as saying:

“Everyone knows it looks crazy,” he told QMI Agency. “But the transport department is our client. You must understand, I was somewhat uncomfortable to criticize them.”

We look at this and ask ourselves “How could anyone be so stupid?”

This is a perfect example of “doing things right”, as opposed to “doing the right things”.

How many times have we watched IT projects do the exact same thing?

How many times have we seen projects which followed the exact statement of the new requirements, without always looking at or understanding the surrounding IT terrain? How many new IT projects attempt to simply “pave around” existing infrastructure? How many times have you heard someone say “well, I thought it was kind of stupid, but that is what my client/boss asked for?”

Even worse, what looks stupid in the physical world is often applauded in the IT world. If you jump through hoops to do a very professional job of “paving around the hydro poles” then you are being resourceful, and “responsive to client needs”.

Sorry, stupid is still stupid!

So the next time you see something stupid about to happen –  ask somebody. Maybe it really is as stupid as it looks! And if they still insist on doing something stupid, show them this picture!

Leap Motion

This is too cool! And at the advertised price point, it would definitely be a game changer in NUI development. I do not agree that it replaces a mouse and keyboard, but I do not think in terms of “replacement”. It provides another mode of interaction, along with mouse, keyboard, touch and voice, all of which can augment one another to provide an optimal user experience.

I want one!

Windows 8 Adoption: My Predictions

With Windows 8 rumoured to go RTM near mid-year, and released before year end, I thought I would hazard a few predictions about its acceptance/adoption:

The new Windows 8 Start Screen, making use of ...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

  1. Apple users will hate it. Why? Because it is not from Apple, and nothing cool can from from anyone but Apple.
  2. Linux users will hate it. Why? Because it is from Microsoft, and Microsoft is the root of all that is evil in the universe. Oh, and it has a GUI.
  3. Android users will hate it. Again, because it comes from Microsoft.
  4. Many Microsoft fans will love it, but will be afraid to admit it in front of their “cool” Apple and Android friends.
  5. Microsoft Marketing will fail. I hope this is not the case, but the last half dozen years or so leads me to believe that Microsoft cannot communicate with consumers (except XBox consumers, and gamers are a little different anyway)
  6. Other than on a tablet or other touch device, no one will upgrade to Windows 8 until they absolutely have to (unless I am wrong and Microsoft marketing hits it out of the park).

I don’t think these are particularly high risk predictions!

P.S. – I personally really like Windows 8 and the Metro UI (not crazy about the HTML5 + JavaScript development model, though).

Usability: Are “Stupid Users” really just a symptom of lazy software?

Any conversation with programmers or technical support people regarding users will often lead to many stories about “can you believe how stupid users are?” But how often is it really the software that is stupid, rather than the users?

Users frequently make some very simplistic assumptions about software (or computerized devices in general):

  • Simple things will work
  • If it lets me do it, everything must be ok.

These are not really bad assumptions. Many of the things the mere users try to do only sound stupid to those “in the know” – those who have been suitably trained and conditioned by software to know that the perfectly reasonable things the user wants to do are indeed stupid.

Take an example. A user has an MP3 file, and they really want a WAV file. Naively, the user renames the file from a .mp3 extension to a .wav extension, and is baffled that the file does not behave as a WAV file. We all know that this is not how software works, right? This user then becomes another story for some tech support person.

However, there was nothing wrong with the user. The user wanted a WAV. The OS let him rename the file from .mp3 to .wav, so everything must be ok, right?

I would suggest that it is the software here that is stupid, not the user. Or more correctly, the software is just lazy. It cannot be bothered preventing the user from doing things that don’t make sense. It cannot be bothered acting in an intuitive manner, or at least informing the user that it is not acting so. Hey, maybe the software could actually do something useful, like convert the MP3 file to a WAV file, which is what the user wants in the first place. Or at the very least, tell the user how to do it.

In general, users are not stupid. They just want to do stuff, and they expect software to allow them to do it in an intuitive manner. So if your tech support logs are filled with stories of “stupid users”, maybe you should have a long, hard look at your software.

Windows 8 is for the Right Handed?

As I have played with Windows 8 (both the Developer Preview and the Consumer Preview), I have gotten the distinct feeling that it has been developed assuming a right-handed user. For example, access the system charms works much more consistently with my right thumb as opposed to reaching across with my left hand.

Tonight, while reading through some of the developer documentation for the consumer preview, I came across the following statement:

Untitled

Apparently it is ok to ignore 10% of the population when designing your user experience.

What’s up with WordAds?

I am wondering what is up with WordPress.com’s WordAds, announced last November. I submitted a request for the program in December, and received a confirmation stating it would be “a few weeks” before they could respond.

Well, it is closing in on three months now (which is, I guess, still “a few weeks”), but I am wondering what is going on with this program?

Welcome to The Continuum – Part Two

Earlier today, I began to explain The Continuum as an experiment in Social Brainstorming. But that is only half the story (actually, a third, but we will deal with that later).

Beyond this, The Continuum is meant as a demonstration of a Seamless User Experience.

The Continuum grew out of a very simple exercise in which I was brainstorming a new (for me) subject area. While reading about this topic, I was recording (short) thoughts on PostIt notes, and putting them randomly all over the whiteboards in my office. I was doing this in the hope that patterns would eventually emerge – patterns I would not otherwise see.

While I was doing this, someone came into my office, and over the course of our discussions, the question arose as to why I was not using some computer-based tool to do this (I am, after all, a nerd). The reality is, unfortunately, that no tools exist which would allow me to do this without the technology getting in the way. Any computer-based tool tends to make assumptions about how you work, or worse yet force a pattern of work on you. Or you spend more time playing with the tool than you do capturing ideas. This cognitive friction in software means that I tend to lose ideas while trying to capture them, or at least lose the flow of ideas.

It should all be as simple as scribbling on a PostIt note, and slapping it on a whiteboard.

But it isn’t.

We now live in a world dominated by mobile devices. That said, there are still a few (hundred million) PCs in use. Even more, there are now many large format displays offering rich multi-touch experiences, as well as other modes of interaction including gestures and voice recognition.

The question then arises “What constitutes a great user experience in this new world of multi-modal interactions?” This is often described in terms of a Natural User Interface (NUI), which is unfortunately defined somewhat circularly as an interface which feels natural (ok, not quite that obviously, but nearly).

While this is a question I have been pondering for some time, I do not have an answer, or at very least not the answer (if I did, I would be a lot richer and more famous than I am!)

One aspect of the new user experience that is key to The Continuum experiment is that the user experience should be seamless across all (or at least most) devices. Note that this does not mean that all devices should deliver all of the functionality of the solution. What it does mean is that the solution should exist on all devices, presenting those aspects of the functionality which is appropriate to the device format. Let’s call this Device Appropriateness.

In addition, the user interface should be as transparent as possible. As much as possible, the user should interact directly with content, rather than interacting with content through some artificial UI constructs. Buttons, menus, icons – these are all artificial UI constructs. In a perfect world the UI is completely disappears.

Device Appropriateness.

Cognitive Transparency.

This is The Continuum.

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