Isn’t it amazing that, after all these years, it still hasn’t dawned on companies like D-Link that simplicity sells? They still don’t get it: spending a little money up front —on hardware design, streamlined software, better manuals -- would save a fortune in tech-support calls and store returns. ...This reminded me of an incident earlier in the week when a relative came to me with his nearly brand-new BlackBerry Curve 8900 and complained that he couldn't get back to the old home menu. When I looked at the home screen, sure enough it had changed to about 40 minuscule icons on a pure white background, instead of the carrier home page, which has a blue graphic and five icons showing the most-used features. He had accidentally changed the home screen some days before and had tried every conceivable way to switch it back. Tech support at work wasn't helpful -- while they support email on the device, they don't handle anything else, because he bought it on his own. He called his employer's CIO, who was sympathetic, but could only advise him to call the carrier tech support. They told him to change the setting in the options screen, but he couldn't find that.
... In short, D-Link has gone to the considerable expense of inventing, designing and marketing a smart machine that could save a lot of people a lot of cost and complexity — and then hobbled it by making it much too cryptic and technical for 90 percent of its potential audience.
So I gave it a shot. The interface designed by Research in Motion is maddeningly complicated -- many options are only available from specific applications, or are buried in submenus. Changing options often requires multiple clicks to select the menu item, change to another setting, and then saving that setting. I hunted around in various places, including the most obvious place -- the home page icon for display/keyboard -- but could not find what I was looking for. I told him his best option was to go to AT&T store where he had bought the device and have them find the option, but he was afraid they would shrug or be unable to help him.
So I gave it one more try. And lo and behold, one of the last icons on the home menu was labeled "options" (separate from display/keyboard). I found the setting and changed it. He was overjoyed.
But it made me wonder. The BlackBerry UI is so unintuitive that it took five people -- including the CIO of a large organization -- to diagnose what was wrong. We collectively spent an hour or two on the issue.
And he's not the only one. I remember when I got my first BlackBerry several years ago. It was simply placed on my desk by someone in IT without any tutorial or manual. I'm a pretty tech-savvy individual, but I couldn't figure out how to turn it off -- I had to ask another user how to do it. Ditto for changing the phone volume or the position of icons on the screen -- I had to Google the solutions.
If even 10% of BlackBerry owners have similar problems, that represents a lot of frustration and millions of wasted hours every year. Research in Motion surely knows about these problems (the first BlackBerry came out eight or nine years ago) yet it is still shipping products that confound users with their complexity.
Besides D-Link and RIM, what other technology companies (or specific products) can't get a handle on the user experience?