Last week we published an article about how simply doing things better is a more creative and interesting option than trying to be different for the sake of being different. The idea for the post came from an interview I read with Sir Jonathan Ive.
The possibility always exists that almost everything and anything can be made better because technological development never stops. There are always new innovations providing new opportunities for improvement.
But somehow these ideas on design and innovation do not seem to have been noticed by the manufacturers of the television and cable industry.
Last weekend, I helped a family member switch over to cable. Up until then I had not been particularly motivated to think that deeply about finding a design solution for watching television. How hard can it be? You select a channel along with the appropriate volume and off you go — easy peasy. However, with the arrival of almost 200 new channels it seemed that 200 new buttons to press also turned up.
What a waste.
The quality of the television in terms of audio and video was excellent. The problem lies with the remote controls. Their basic purpose is to provide function selection from a user defined location such as a couch or an armchair.
The only real drawbacks from this method of human/technological interaction are the effects on waistlines and the triggering of innumerable domestic arguments.
Why are remotes so unwieldy and why do you have to have more than one of them? Well, one answer would be the standby of lumpheads everywhere, “Well, that is the way we’ve always done it.”
Technical issues could be advanced as a reason. After all coding infra red light to pulse in a certain manner so that each part of the TV system knows what is being asked of it must be a devilishly difficult and Herculean task.
If that were really true, which it is not, then you have to wonder how we ever made it to the moon.
Steve Wozniak came up with a one unit fits all device, the CL 9, back in 1985. It worked but was limited by the technology of the time and one totally bizarre design flaw where if the battery that is soldered to the main board goes flat then that is the end of the device.
Of course with the iPhone and the iPad no one seems to think that its nuts to have a device dependent on a battery that you cannot change. Bit of a deal-killer back then, though.
TV manufacturers regard the specifications of a television set as being the deciding factor in making the sale. They seem to assume that no one buys a TV based on how they feel about the remote control. Hence, they see them as a necessary cost on which the least amount of time, money and design effort should be spent. There is no denying that it shows.
It is a bit like buying a BMW and finding you have a coat hanger for a steering wheel.
This lack of care in the design process has resulted in homes across the planet littered with ugly, unmanageable lumps of plastic that are simply not fit for purpose. It is an ergonomic nightmare compounding itself into an environmental mess for no other reason than callous lack of thought or consideration.
But imagine if you could control your domestic entertainment devices with your smartphone or something of that ilk?
After all, they are, mostly, intelligent and they work. They are able to harness the immense power of the internet. Listings and the setting of record times could be done from websites.
On immediate benefit is that the awful, clunky, unhelpful and inefficient inbuilt cable “guide” can be simply done away with. (Here is a classic design failure in its own right. Something that is supposed to make it easier fo you find and view programmes actually gets in the way and slows you down.)
Almost certainly, a few dozen great ideas for improving human/TV interactivity could be crowd-sourced through any of the app stores or online market places within days. For instance, there could be apps where you can easily share what you are watching so others can join in and comment along with the programme.
All of this is would be so much better than the hard to use, unwieldy mess we have now.
The only advantage that the current controllers would have in this bright, new world is that you would not have to throw them away when the battery goes flat.
I think we might have moved on from that issue being a deal-killer now.