Wednesday 28 August 2013

Obviously! Or Not?

I had a very interesting experience over the weekend that demonstrates the challenge that software developers face in making 'user-friendly' software.

My mother's phone died last week, so I gave her one of my old ones. Aren't I a great son. Now, her old mobile was a super-simple, big-button phone designed for - erm - a more mature generation. The replacement was a 'top of the range in its day' Nokia touch screen. Disaster looms.

One particular sticking point was adding phone numbers to the contact list. I'd added a shortcut to Contacts on the home screen so it was easy to open. However, we then hit a user dead end.
Mum: "How do I add another phone number?"
Me: "You touch the phone book icon with a plus on it."
Mum: "You make it sound obvious. I didn't know that."
 Me: Safe silence.
Mum was right, it was obvious to me. I want to add a phone number, therefore I touch the only button with an add symbol on it.
Mum: "What now?"
Me: "It says 'tap to write' up there. So tap it."
Mum: Tap. Enters contact's full name.
Me: "Whoa whoa whoa. It says 'first name'. 'Last name' is the next field."
Mum: Disgruntled silence.
Let me make something quite clear. My mum is not a stupid woman. She's a history-buff, has high-level music certificates and a younger age than me on brain training. Yet, on some level, this seemed beyond her.

We do programming here at Estuary, so we understand the challenges in making a genuine user-friendly system. You could use text on all the buttons but as soon as you release that software in overseas' markets your translation work significantly increases. Symbols are universal, but they have to be crystal clear.

Also, the psychology for many people is that 'this is technological, therefore is going to be hard,' however simple the interface. It takes a lot of work to make something easy. A lot.

Now, close your browser and get some air. No, close it. It's the red cross in the top corner. Was that not obvious?

Thursday 15 August 2013

Digital or Analogue Calls?

Oh how things have changed since the first telephone in 1876 !

What started as a way to get multiple telegraph messages across the same lines soon developed into speech and nowadays we have millions of conversations travelling the world at great speed.

Years ago, everything relied on a diaphragm to change sounds into a current and at the other end of the line, the current was used at the other end to convert it back into sound.

Nowadays, although the mouthpiece and earpiece are of similar technology, the signal is digitised and chases at light speed down optical circuits. Also is the more recent development of VOIP - Voice Over IP.

What is VOIP ?  This is the technology of sending the audio signal down a digital line through the Internet, racing around the world and converting it back to an audio signal at the other end by a computer or similar device. The benefits?

One of the main benefits is cost. Conversation Audio isn't bandwidth hungry, so it can travel down your Internet connection even if you don't have a very fast connection.  If you are already paying for a broadband connection, you can have endless calls to other VOIP connections for "free" - there is no charge for the length of time you spend on a call, nor is the charge of the call determined by distance, so long as they have Internet.

Other services are available too, SKYPE is a popular VOIP service which offers the facility to allow callers to call Landline numbers which are NOT on the Internet by taking the signal into a local phone exchange over the Internet, and then converting the signal to regular audio for the final distance to the receiving telephone.  The benefit?  Long Distance Calls for the price of a local charge.

There are many benefits to VOIP, and as the service continues to improve and expand, we can see that most or all telephones we be this way.

So the choice remains yours, for now. But VOIP will continue to bite away at the old Analogue phone service.