Commentary

Excellent User Experience: Hammered

"Today, we celebrate the first glorious anniversary of the Information Purification Directives. We have created, for the first time in all history, a garden of pure ideology -- where each worker may bloom, secure from the pests purveying contradictory truths. Our Unification of Thoughts is more powerful a weapon than any fleet or army on earth. We are one people, with one will, one resolve, one cause. Our enemies shall talk themselves to death, and we will bury them with their own confusion. We shall prevail!"

Remember that? It was from Apple Computer's groundbreaking 1984 Super Bowl ad introducing Macintosh to the world.  It was the speech shown on a giant screen to the subjects of a hypothetical Orwellian dystopia. The climax occurs when a hammer is hurled through the air by a heroic woman as she's chased by security, shattering the screen -- and ushering in the new world of choice. Luckily, the leader's speech wasn't presented using Flash or Java, or those monochromatic minions would have seen this: "Thanks for trying to access Flash Player. Unfortunately it is not available for your device because of restrictions that Apple has put in place. Click here to see a wide array of the latest smartphones and tablets that do support Adobe's Flash Player." 

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That's what this minion sees -- a lot. And so do a lot of my tech-friendly friends. What's even sadder, is that I bought one of those first Macs (a 128k that booted up with a system disk), and almost every model since, mostly because of the ease of access and use the brand consistently provided. 

If you haven't already guessed, this diatribe has a lot to do with my new iPad2. I can't understand how a device that doesn't allow the user to access all moving image Web content (including certain Facebook features and our own emmytvlegends.org site) is thriving. Even worse, to make our website work for what is now millions of iPads in play, we've had to reprogram our site at great cost -- how many other nonprofits like ours, with unique video content, are in the same boat regarding Apple's obstinacy? How much amazing content will be forever lost in the shuffle? 

Here's a pretty good ad from Motorola that plays on Apple's change-of-heart: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ndhuEUX1kIU.  

But Apple is not the only source of frustration for consumers. I can read Amazon Kindle books on my iPad, yet my colleague cannot yet access Kindle on her Blackberry PlayBook (but it can play Flash video, so we're even). 

Which brings us to Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling, who recently announced the soon-to-be-launched Potterworld site.  One of the promised features will be the availability of Harry Potter e-books, something that Rowling had not allowed because of the convoluted proprietary digital rights management rules out there. News sources say that her books will be widely available, and the move may even force Amazon to reconsider its closed access to ePub and other book formats on its Kindle. We certainly hope that in the spirit of openness, Rowling's new site won't prematurely dump Flash and Java. 

Even Hulu has made what could be a colossal mistake when it comes to their bottom line. Why, when allowing users to access tons of free content on their desktops, do mobile users have to subscribe to Hulu Plus paid service to see any content? Wouldn't it be better to tease upscale mobile users with the same video available on all platforms, and then lure them into a subscription model? Netflix always had the streaming rights. Subscribers can access content from almost any device with ease and no additional charge. It makes their recent price increase easier to swallow. 

On this current battlefield for dominance of both platforms and devices, it seems that the big guns in digital have turned into their own worst enemies when it comes to creating a frustration-less user experience. It's time to stop taking a "too big to fail" approach, burying customers with their own confusion, and provide seamless ease of access -- before it comes full circle, and hammers really start flying....

6 comments about "Excellent User Experience: Hammered".
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  1. Roberto Prado from Studio Roberto Prado, July 21, 2011 at 2:28 p.m.

    There are two issues I see as problematic with this article. The first is the reluctance by publishers of electronic content to move away from their Flash based creations and adopt HTML5, which will clearly become the dominant publication language in the near term and forever replace Flash. Second is a similar obstinacy from the entire world of technology companies that continue to want to have proprietary standards. Coming from the television and (to a much lesser extent) film world, I have long shouted from my quiet corner about the need for adopting standards. How well would television have been deployed if NBC only worked on Zenith televisions and CBS only on Magnavox? What if color TV, when it was introduced, only worked on half of the color sets manufactured or was not adopted by ABC? In the television industry we have long embraced standards as the only possible solution to the ubiquitous accessibility of our content. Today's appliance manufacturers need to learn this. The other thing they need to do is embrace emerging standards, even if it means biting the bullet and re-authoring their old sites - after all, what if NBC refused to broadcast in high-def because it was too expensive to re-tool? Finally, in technology driven businesses, we must adapt to emerging technologies or pay the price. Nobody edits using Moviolas anymore, there is no "film at eleven", floppy disks are in landfills and Linotypes are in museums.

  2. Ruth Barrett from EarthSayers.tv, July 21, 2011 at 2:44 p.m.

    We don't use flash, our site works very well on all systems/browsers except the iPad and we are all online video. This is a developer community issue and it was well stated and in our case has nothing to do with flash. Standards have frozen technological development when the technology is going through rapid change as it is now when publishing, broadcasting, and computer technology are merging. I remember years ago at ComputerLand Corporate there was a large client, a utility company that "standardized" on Volkswriter. Remember them? No, you don't.

    What I think Roberto is getting at is the user experience is highly stratified right now. For example, I watch NBC Nightly News on my laptop and am treated to the same commercial over and over again, episode after episode, night after night. Why am I being punished for looking at the darn thing on a computer rather than a dumb terminal? And by the way, let me get this off my chest, the ad is about how Merck is now going to look at all of us as people. No kidding.

  3. Steven Graff from Bloofusion Inc., July 22, 2011 at 1:07 a.m.

    People have a choice, desktop, laptops and notebooks which nearly universally play Flash, and mobile devices with various degrees of a degraded Flash experience or HTML5. You talk as if Flash is a universally positive user experience. It isn't, and I have watched many consumers simply pass or give up when presented with a Flash-based home page or site. I have literally heard them curse at online retailers that employ it. And as a development environment I can tell you I work with designers and developers that alternately cheer and despise Flash.

    Adobe and Google (and other search engines) still have not completely solved Flash indexing. Not being indexable by search engines has the potential of making a site irrelevant, yet I never hear people calling the folks at Google oppressive, egotistic or fascist because they haven't developed a crawler that can completely parse a Flash site or file. Is Adobe opposed to the free sharing of information because Flash technology appears opaque to most search engines?

    Seriously, can we stop complaining about the incompatibility of this legacy technology platform with an OS that is about to reach its fifth generation? Apple laid out their challenge to Adobe four years ago, develop a version of Flash that doesn't crash their browser or OS, cause a performance hit, or decrease battery life over HTML 5 and they'll reconsider their stance. Maybe the problem is not Apple, but that Adobe is not up to the challenge.

    In many ways this situation is just like the browser wars and Microsoft's refusal to fully embrace W3C standards which resulted in developers routinely coding and testing two sets of HTML for their web sites. one for IE and the other for standards compliant browsers. If Adobe wants Flash authored content to be playable on the dominant tablet platform and OS it is up to Adobe to figure out a solution, not Apple. If not, Flash can expect an ascendancy of HTML5 playable video at an even faster rate than Firefox climbed against IE.

  4. Steve Bertolacci from For Rent Media Solutions, July 22, 2011 at 9:47 a.m.

    There are a number of key details omitted in this recent fight. The main one is the technology that the people use and it's rate of change. I've been working on the web since the early days and got all the joy of seeing the first browser war and what it does to the development groups stuck in the middle. Now people are claiming that HTML5 will solve all their problems and completely ignoring how many problems it causes. Take a minute and look at your analytics for what versions of different browsers people are using and their average rate of change over time. Chunk out the browsers that you know will grind to a halt if you attempt to use complicated JavaScript on the page. You'll notice how your target demographic quickly dwindles to a very uncomfortable number. Then take for a minute and consider that Flash works on those, but doesn't on this smaller alienated group. The solution ends up being just like the early days where developers just have to suck it up and make multiple versions of their product. To the business, this means more expense to keep up. But just like dealing with the search engine world, you have to do what you have to do to keep up.

  5. RLB Hartmann from Tierra del Oro, July 23, 2011 at 9:03 a.m.

    Roberto, your examples are right on the money. The lack of tech standardization has irked me for years.

  6. RLB Hartmann from Tierra del Oro, July 23, 2011 at 9:09 a.m.

    I'm thrilled to see that most of you dislike Flash as much as I do. I've been in that "smaller alienated group, and it wasn't fun.

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