• The Rise of the Black Box: Since When Did Technology Get So Hard to Use?


    About a year or so ago, I read a thoughtful article on how Apple products were no longer easy to use. I shared it in the news back in September, and the gist of the article was that technology has now reached a point where it's becoming increasingly common to have to work out convoluted solutions to what should be easy-to-solve problems. And this change isn't just happening for people who aren't familiar with how computers work, but even for those who have lived and breathed computers ever since they could live and breathe.

    It's no one's fault, per se, but pretty soon, technology will become a victim of its own popularity. There's a lot Apple (and other companies) are doing to address the problem by making the simple things simple and engineering the best user experiences possible, but that doesn't mean something slips through the cracks every now and again. It's why we now have job titles that describe someone as a "UX designer" or why we now have units called human-computer interaction that you can study at the tertiary level. All because this technology business can be a lot more complicated than most people think, and unless you've built software yourself, worked with clients, or experienced the rage when something isn't as intuitive as it should be, you have no idea what it's like. Trust me *the best iOS and Mac apps have an incredible amount of thought put into them.

    I follow one iOS developer on App.Net, and it's been eye-opening to see him explain to users why his app doesn't do certain things one way, or does them another. There's just so many possible use cases, so many different usage scenarios, that it's hard for just one developer of a small-time iOS app to account for every one. I remember one time when I emailed him about an issue I was having where the app wasn't behaving the way I was used to in another app "gap detection", if you're interested and his response as to why his app worked differently made complete sense, even though the other app worked a completely different way. Two completely different implementations of the same feature, two completely different ideologies as two how gap detection should work, but both just as valid as each other. And you wonder why there's a proliferation of these so-called UX designers.

    If you've been reading around, you'll know that lots of iOS and Mac developers have abandoned iCloud as a solution for data syncing. Not because it's a complete failure like MobileMe was, but because there's just so little information given to developers about the inner workings of iCloud. We're not privy to what goes on behind the scenes, and I guess part of the problem is that most of the time, the technology that we're trying to bend to our will is so opaque that even if we want to try and fix it ourselves, as geeks tend to do, we can't, but only because we have no idea where to start. Don't get me wrong, the idea behind iCloud data syncing is fantastic it's just the implementation that's a little lacking.

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