Post CES reflection on role of technology and Alzheimer's.
Boston, mid-May, 2016
The car -- the pointer doesn’t point. I have ranted for a long time that because something can be designed, it probably will. Do we need it? Do we want it? Not necessarily. The Wall Street Journal’s Dan Neil describes the new man-machine interface in the Lexus RX 350 F Sport -- the MMI (how cute), a car’s User Interface (UI, or UX/user experience design). His beef is with what sounds like a design-because-it-can-be Remote Touch Controller. He finds it difficult to aim the ‘cursor’ (no back arrow, just a menu selection) to manipulate a menu to back up the selections on an 8-inch LCD display. In a car?? Didn’t AARP say that boomers and beyond have all the spending power? Good thing, the tested model was $53,000. And isn’t 59 the average age of the Lexus buyer?
The smartphone – the touch is too sensitive. Only 11 percent of the 65+ have smart phones, according to Pew’s September 2012 research. Probably because the usability of the product is just too annoying for words, typed on an overly small keyboard display on a small glass screen that one squints at and struggles to position a too-large thumb over the back arrow while manipulating the screen with one hand and holding the phone with the other. And this is the wildly popular Samsung Galaxy S3. Marvelous device, takes great pictures, does everything that can be imagined – except be usable by people with normal sized hands – and it is slippery until you wrap it in another purchase, the case with the cutouts for buttons and camera. And then it is still too big for one hand.
The tablet – too heavy to hold. The iPad set the standard for tablet imitators, stunning battery life – and older adults love it. But it is a fairly heavy thing I am betting that they love most when it is flat on their lap or a table. The mini iPad attempts to solve that weighty issue: “What’s the point of having a gorgeous screen and a better antenna if you can’t even hold your tablet with one hand when you are at home on your couch?” And hence the industry at CES and elsewhere of cases, holders and stands for a device that is sort-of portable, ships without a grip – and is slippery. Older adults like it anyway, despite its limitations – because of its bright screen for viewing (most) content. But it is barely portable. And don’t spill water on it – or drop it.
The TV Remote control – it’s impenetrable. Now that manufacturers have eliminated most controls from televisions, the remote is the only remaining way you can interact with them. Not to pick on any particular model (they are equally awful), I am staring at one now, looking at a sea of little buttons like ‘Link, X, SAP (no, that's not German enterprise software), Viera Tools, SD Card and Last.’ Last what? What is this, a television remote or a secret handshake to a club we the users who wish to watch TV cannot join without a training course?
We the people – have lost control of technology. We need knives to hack away at its retail plastic packaging, a picture in front of us or a training video to use a new touchpad unmarked mouse, or documentation to decipher a TV remote, steady hands for our smart phone, and a carrying case/stand for a too big tablet computer. Add self-driving cars, Remote Touch Controllers (never mind that the Cadillac’s MMI is called CUE and has ‘capacitive switches' and will soon have the intriguingly named Adaptive Cruise Control). If older adults make up a growing percent of car buyers, is anyone asking them for feedback about the usability, presumed design for all, of these dramatic user interface improvements? Is this what autonomous cars are really about? Manufacturers invent new ways to ignore the driver/user?