Android Phone Goes Inky. E Inky, Prototypically Speaking.

Wow, what a great headline…

I read an article at Laptop Mag regarding a prototype Android phone that uses an E Ink display.  My inner critic decided to outwardly criticize, producing a rather lengthy blog comment.  I reprinted the comment here on my own blog because… well, why not?

Laptop Mag’s hands-on demo:

My response:

Notwithstanding the super-light weight and super-long battery life that E Ink affords this device, the display is a showstopper. The talk about using an older processor is a red herring; a faster processor won’t fix fundamental characteristics of the display. The currently available generations of E Ink give you a trade-off between refresh speed and power consumption; crappy refresh rates mean long battery life, fast refreshes are draining.

The E Ink screen is great for displays that don’t require rapid refresh, but this prototype demonstrates how inappropriate it is as a smartphone’s primary display.

Motofone F3

When you buy an Android phone with multi-touch, the implication is that you’ll be interacting using finger swipes and taps, and that your interactions produce feedback quickly enough to make the experience seem natural and effortless. What we think of as normal single- and multi-touch functions would lose much of their utility; pinch-to-zoom, for one, would be a noticeable series of zoom-in steps (instead of a fluid growing and shrinking effect), something you could achieve with a zoom-in button and a single finger.

I’m not trying to bad-mouth E Ink, here – this is just not a viable application until/unless E Ink rolls out a display that gives you imperceptible refresh without massively increasing power consumption, hopefully at a reasonable price.

It would be cool to have the option of swapping your phone’s display, either physically changing it for another one or flipping one over the other like a book cover. There are times when I wish my display was e-paper, but then I look at my Motorola F3 and all is forgotten.

😉

LG Support Super Happy Fun Time

Who doesn’t love an easter egg hunt?

Staring at the refurb LG television on my desk, I felt the need to check its customizability, or “hackability” for those wearing rollerblades.  Before any of that could happen, I wanted to find precise specifications and descriptors for the TV to help my search.  The logical place to start was the manufacturer’s support site…  Corporate product support sites are universally craptastic, but LG has a way of making theirs even more frustrating.

Model 22LG30 LCD TV

Example: the exact model number stamped on the back of my TV isn’t listed in the product search.  I have a 22LG30-UA.  When I visit LG’s Canada support page* and enter “22lg30-ua” I get no results at all from the quick menu or drop-down menu.  Hmm.  That’s not a good sign.  Clicking the Search button brings me to a results page that purports to show close matches to known products.  But there are none.  Zero matches for product, tutorials, or frequently asked questions.

*Strangely, I initially landed at the UK support site.  I can’t say that this was LG’s doing since I performed a Google search instead of entering the basic lg.com URL, but I didn’t realize I was at the wrong site for my region for a few minutes.  A “you appear to be in Canada, would you like to visit their site instead?” message would have been appreciated.

Playing the game, I try a less specific search term, “22lg30” (case isn’t important) and I get this from the quick menu:

22lg30search

Notice the total lack of “22LG30-UA” results.  This time, at least, I have some leads.

This is a clear UX failure; you’ve asked me for a model number, I gave it to you verbatim, you tell me there is no such product.  One of us is lying or misinformed.  I can appreciate that they have oodles and oodles of model numbers and that running a support site isn’t generating revenue, but somewhere in the corporate databases there must be a master list of model numbers that could be dumped to the support site.  Then, at least, a user would have the luxury of finding that his television really does exist.

So, I have two possible matches for my model, “22LG30DC” and “22LG30DC-UA“.  What do these mean?  What is the difference between a model that has “UA” and one that doesn’t?  Is there a default, generic result that I should try first?  There are many ways to help me, the frustrated user, complete his task, but I’m left to click through each link.

I clicked the results in order, looking through the first result, then back to look at the second.  The pages were exactly the same in any meaningful way and looked like this:

22lg30support

There was no information about region specifics (is this a UK model, a Canadian, a German?), no explanation of the “UA” suffix, no information about release year or years, no mention of product family or relation to other products.  There wasn’t even a picture of the TV!  All you get is a generic, slightly ghosted flat panel TV image, which is quite unhelpful when the user wants to know if it’s his television and, naturally, there is no caption or asterisk telling you that it isn’t a picture of your device.

The Help Library section, which one expects to have tips about the device, includes gems like:

  • Sharing Files & Folders – Windows Vista OS
  • Smart TV – Resetting of Netflix Premium Application
  • DLNA not supported on Macintosh Operating System

None of these is related to the product on the page.  Oh well.  Let’s check the manual and get all of the information we want:

22lg30manual

THANK YOU!  Not even a manual to peruse for the 22LG30DC-UA model.  The 22LG30DC model does list a manual, a PDF document (sigh) which appears to match my product.  PDFs are annoying in all sorts of ways, but at least I do, eventually, get the info.

My favourite part of this whole exercise?  Finding LG’s USA support site.  It has an exact listing for “22LG30-UA” with the correct product image (top of this post, source lg.com), a spec sheet with information not found in the manual, and different Help Library information that is also unrelated to the product.  Parfait.

Why is the support database balkanized into separate regions like this?  It makes a certain logical sense for each region to list only the models actively sold (and therefore supported) in that region, and it will probably have no negative effect on most users, but there are many realistic and recorded scenarios where users find themselves unable to get what they need.  From the outside, I can’t know the real reasons for the regionalized nature of LG’s support system.  I would not be surprised, however, to learn that no real usability analysis or user testing was performed, and that support was organized according to the structure of the companies involved rather than a genuine effort to provide a service to the customers.

The whole foundation of good user experience design is knowing your users, and anyone who has really tried to know their userbase has discovered a heterogeneous group of people with different expectations and different ways of solving their problems.  Accepting that reality, a good designer must account for these different expectations and methods, finding ways to accommodate and assist.  You can’t make every task the press of a single button, nor can you make every user act according to your plans, but you can offer suggestions (“You might also check our other regional support sites”), useful information (“The sections of the model number refer to this year, this family, this region, this revision, etc.”), and more agency (“Enter this, press that button” vs “If you know X or part of X, you can search for Y here.  You may also try these other methods, or follow our tutorial, etc. etc.”).  A little consideration can build a lot of customer satisfaction.

LG Support has other ways to frustrate the consumer (not releasing updated firmware via the support page is a frequent complaint), but that’s enough for today.

My next post introduces us to the hidden world of the TV’s Service Menu.

Tron: Legacy: The Phantom Menace: Fully Loaded.

Dear Reader,

I find myself sitting here on a Sunday afternoon, eyes fixed on a terrible tragedy.  That tragedy is a movie called Tron: Legacy.

I could enumerate all of the horrible choices that were made in the story, the screenplay, the directing, the visual design, etc.  I could do that.  But I won’t – my neckbeard isn’t nearly thick enough for that kind of endeavour.

Instead, I will say this:   (SPOILER ALERT)

Jeff Bridges turns into a new age yogi or guru or hairy monk.  He wears a robe-like suit-like garment.

It has a bowl

A bowl.

Yes, a bowl. If I were the kind of guy who defends crappy movies, I would point out that all of the “people” living inside the computer have a similar bowl-shaped socket on the back of their garments.  It is meant to hold an dinner plate identity disc that stores your memories, yadda yadda, and doubles as a weapon.  It’s basically a soul frisbee.  Everyone has a soul frisbee.

Except poor old Jeff Bridges.  I’ll spare you the hoary

“OMG I was betrayed by my own clone and I guess I’ll go be a space Buddhist and wear a robe thing and OMG I hope my son shows up and reminds me of who I was and some guy stole my soul frisbee and now I can’t play Frolf but I hope I can get my soul back and maybe a game of hackeysack”

plot since it’s not germane to the point I’m trying to make.

My question is this: Why does his monk suit have a bowl?  It had a bowl.  On the back, for the soul frisbee.  I get the part about him being inside the computer and that everyone else has a frisbee socket, but he must have made the monk suit himself or at least ordered it from a tailor who takes neon water as payment.  But at what point is he sitting on his computerized bench with a needle and thread thinking “Wait, this thing needs a bowl.” ???

You’re supposed to be the messiah to all of these two-dimensional characters (in 3D!), so surely you can give yourself a pass on the soul bowl garment requirement.  Perhaps he didn’t want to stand out.

Jeff Bridges in his white monk suit.

I don’t want to look out of place here in this world of electric soul frisbees.  I’d better put a bowl on my monk suit.

While trying to wrap my massive head around this question, I had an epiphany.

Tron: Legacy is the Phantom Menace of Tron movies.  Lots of money and effort spent on the CGI side, but the screenplay was given such little attention that it was launched into the sky when CGI jumped on the teeter totter.

This movie is a candy bin of horrors in the bulk food store of bad ideas, but it’s “Cash or Debit ONLY” and I’m $2 short of hobo bait, so I will leave you to ponder what I am calling “The Monk Suit Bowl Conundrum“, a mystery of such depth that it would require a diving bell full of Agatha Christies to discover its foundation.  Puff puff.