Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Why the future will never be perfect thanks to upgrades

That's it, the final straw for me. I am sick of 'upgrades'. In the age of spin, the very word has been re-defined to mean change. Often 'upgrades' are actually significant downgrades. We are bombarded daily by spinners telling us how their company has wrecked a perfectly good system to give 'an improved customer service', or 'for our safety and security'. This morning's assault on our household is that we have finally been subjected to Sky TV's rollout of their terrible new 'upgrade' to their electronic programme guide (EPG). The old one was bad and a poor effort compared to what should reasonably have been expected given the importance of EPGs. I'd only have given it 1 out of 10 at best. However, the new one is much worse, and since they control the software on my box, I was never given a choice and can't go back to the old one (until enough of us complain I guess). The blurb highlights 'exciting new features', a  new search facility and a 'mini-TV'. I am certain that I will never want to use either of them. The improvements I really want is for it to take less time to lock on to each channel as I channel hop, or that I could adjust the speed at which the channels hop by to my own speed reading pace (too slow on my old box, too fast on the new one).  Or a major breakthrough for Sky: let me choose a full range of EPG options like any other company would have done in their first edition. But missing these real upgrades and adding useless ones is bad. They have no vision, but that's true of lots of companies. What is really bad is that they have actually removed one of the most important features. If you have dozens of programmes recorded (as I have), when you enter the guide, you could just hit the up arrow and it would take you straight to the last thing you recorded, which is what you want to watch probably about 90% of the time. Now you have to cursor very slowly through the entire list to get to it. That is not my idea of an upgrade. I imagine that every customer who ever records anything will be highly irritated by this loss, far more than they will be excited by any of the new features.

But Sky isn't the only company out there with some teenager on job experience deciding what is cool and trendy and another deciding that all the customers must be forced to use it without bothering to try it out first on real customers.

This trend is all too pervasive. Ipswich railway station used to be a friendly place, where you could walk onto the platform to say goodbye or greet your friends. Now, 'to improve customer service', they have made it impossible by introducing ticket barriers. You can no longer buy a coffee while waiting, and have to say goodbye in the station lobby. They used to have several staff to buy tickets from, now they only have one or two and a range of hard-to-use machines with a variety of 'not working' notices on them.

Just like Sky's disregard for what people really want to do, it's not a major deal I guess, but still a significant drop in quality of another small component of what makes up quality of life.

I could go on and on, the list is endless. The thoroughly incompetent re-design of Stansted car park, the regeneration of Ipswich docks that missed the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to fix the awful one-way system, and thereby locks in congestion for decades instead of solving it. The numerous Microsoft 'upgrades' that throw away important features or bury them deep in unintuitive menus, replacing them with ones you never wanted and will never use. The ones that make billing 'simpler' that actually make it incomprehensible.

Each time an 'upgrade' is imposed on us that is more difficult or unpleasant to use than the old one, or forces us to learn a new way of doing things for no good reason, our quality of life takes a small step backwards. Some of the gains made by genuine progress are wiped out.

I really believe that this a major flaw in the development cycle. Whatever new technology brings us in genuine life improvements, there will always be an idiot somewhere in the team with the loudest mouth and the smallest brain who totally misunderstands the customer. And worse, thinks that it is more important to show off to his peers about how up to date he is than to give the customer a truly great product. Because of these people and their poorly justified egos, we will never have a utopia, however good the technology becomes. Whatever it allows, someone somewhere will always decide that what we must have is a redesigned version that forces us to do things their way, however stupid it might be. The one thing we really need an upgrade to is the design of the upgrade cycle itself.

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At September 8, 2009 4:50 AM , Anonymous Gary Wilson (earthgecko) said...

My mantra is, "If it ain't broke, DON'T fix it!!!"

This has stood me, my companies, our customers and my clients in goodstead and stable for a long time.

We do not need perfect, we just need it to function properly.

They keep try to get me to upgrade Skype, but why the new version is not as functional as it does not maintain test format, so you cannot paste logs, code or anything of the sort into any more as it arrive on the other end and displays with a "Gary says: hh:mm" at each line.

Maybe we are just getting old and more neophobic :)

But I fully agree! If it ain't broke don't fix it!

At September 10, 2009 2:05 AM , Anonymous Gary Wilson (earthgecko) said...

There are exceptions to the rule however.

Take Google for example, when they make a change or upgrade an existing product, it can be so subtle that one could be forgiven if they missed it. Small, incremental changes.


Perhaps there is a lesson there :) Perhaps undisruptive upgrades can be achieved. Perhaps it is a woman's touch, that of Marissa Mayer.


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