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Why Apple and Google are struggling to design simple software


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Today it isn't enough to have a track record, it has to be reset every year with every product. Why? Read the article. A very interesting discussion of how the race to market share is not necessarily in tandem with simplicity.




"Right now, millions of consumers are facing a simple problem. Or rather, they're facing a problem with simplicity, as both the number of smart products and the functions of those products multiply.

I was recently reminded of this when I tried to quickly snap a picture at a recent Apple event. I tried to double-click the home button on my locked Galaxy S6 to call up the camera. But I took just a moment too long, triggered the fingerprint reader and unlocked my phone instead — and completely missed the shot.


It was a momentary irritation. But it did make me —at the ripe, old age of 30 — a little wistful for the days when buttons on devices had one function. And it also made me sympathize with the many readers I hear from who say that managing their devices, or even just using basic software, is just getting too complicated.


They're not alone. Take, for example, a 2016 Accenture study, which found that 16 percent of consumers who've tried to buy an Internet of Things device found it too complicated to use. Even worse, 18 percent of consumers couldn't even get those devices to connect to the Internet. Or a 2015 study from J.D. Power's interactive vehicle report found that one-fifth of drivers using cars with smart dashboards never even tried to use 16 of 33 common vehicle software features such as automatic parking.


That's not a function of slowing innovation or technological progress -- these features have been developed and shipped in finished products. If most people still don't understand how to use them? That's a design problem.


"We've moved into an age where the ubiquity and complexity of toolsets outpace the ability to leverage them tastefully," said Jason Mayden, a Stanford design fellow who once led design for Nike's Jordan Group and worked on the company's wearable fitness tracker, the Fuel Band. "It can’t look like a science project. People don’t want Star Trek. They want Minority Report."


But software isn't getting easier to use. In fact, it's quite the opposite.


For years, the simplicity crown has gone to Apple, which has been a ferocious champion for clean design that doesn't give you more information than you strictly need. "We're rolling off of five to eight years with a set of thoughts, promulgated initially by Apple, that is almost cultish that simplicity must come first," said designer John Underkoffler of Oblong Industries — who, by the way, actually did design those futuristic menus in "Minority Report."

But now, even at Apple, the crown is showing signs of slipping. For example: have you looked at iTunes lately?


What started as a simple program for buying, storing and downloading music has morphed into a much larger program for TV shows, movies, podcasts, apps, streaming music and device management. At times, it can feel like a building that's being repeatedly expanded and renovated in a new architectural style every time.


Or, as Underkoffler puts it, “It started out as a charming bungalow. Now it’s got turrets, a garage for a zamboni, and a helipad on the top.”


There's been a recent wave of Apple criticism from long-time supporters, including the very-respected Walt Mossberg, who worry the company's lost its way when it comes making simple programs that just work. And that may be true. But it would be impossible to expect Apple to keep iTunes as simple as it was when it was first introduced. That's just not the world we live in anymore."


Much more with several pages of discussion and related links is here: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-switch/wp/2016/03/28/why-apple-and-google-are-struggling-to-design-simple-software/?wpmm=1&wpisrc=nl_tech

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Well, another article stating the obvious. It has been like that for a long time.


As much as I'm not a fan of Apple products, they have been a great boon for simple software design in the past. With the exception of iTunes - which has always been an example of poor design. Which is surprising given that it came from Apple. Even at the beginning iTunes was basically a "piece of $%^&". It has only gone down hill from there. It was the direct cause of me moving to Google Music, which is now my primary source of music, and my only source of storage. If I buy something on iTunes from the Apple store - because I cannot find it elsewhere - then it is immediately loaded to Google Music. All my music is managed from there, bypassing iTunes totally. We just gave away our last iPod. So I now have a "non-Apple" household, other than my iPad Retina.


Google tries very hard to make things simple. They kinda have to - since they basically do not document products to a reasonable state. I'm convinced they keep trying until people can just "figure it out". Which is a flawed approach, but it does keep things on the simple side.

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Google stopped supporting Picasa which to me was the ultimate editing program early in the century. It is not just Apple, and Google either. MIcrosoft has just finished their three year tablet OS and Atom SoC in tandem with Intel to produce the windows tablets of today. Simultaneously, they were transitioning to a new interface that was rejected at first and From Windows 8 through 8.1, and now 10 have had a return to level of user satisfaction unseen since Windows 7. More so in that I can still do a lot of admin tweaks and tricks, still use regedit, but for the average user it has the more powerful secure boot and other security lockdowns making Windows and OSX infections only able to get in from:


1. Third party programs like Adobe Reader and Java.


2. From old patched vulnerabilities on systems that never do the Windows updates and are still vulnerable to attacks on years old vulnerabilities.


3. Social engineering (where the user is convinced to open an attachment or is suckered into a "SCAN NOW! 20 GAZILLION INFECTIONS FOUND ON YOUR SYSTEM!" Or the ubiquitous "Windows slow? Download super duper streaker tweaker and tune up your system to make it fast again.")


It is rare, almost unheard of today in reality for a Windows box to be infected by a drive by or zero day although they do happen rarely because anti malware programs are getting much better at heuristic detection without exact definitions in their database.


So MS has been doing 24/7 on major overhauls of Windows in both interface and security of the main desktop/laptop/tablets, and the interface and switch from RT mobile OS to full Windows 10 on their new sleek light powerful tablets with all day run times on battery alone. Now if they would only get to the phone.


Apple has been trying different enterprise approaches with larger screens and Apps to do what Office does as has Google.


Amazon has had few big winners and more than a few misses and IMO gave up on the higher end Fire tablets. I have their HDX I waste by using it only as a backlit Kindle reader. It has a "reader mode" that adjusts the backlight and switches into e-ink mode, and makes it much easier to read outdoors but not quite as good as the Kindles. I think their Fire TVs, two of which I have. One is the older unit that is now on my quad HD 27" AIO Computer which has an HDMI in as well as HDMI out. The other is one of the new Fire TV with the 4k hardware and software in the LR on the UHD 4k 65". I had a Roku 3 that was in the LR, then moved to my Computer but after getting the 2nd Fire TV the Roku 3 went to the guest bedroom. I sold it and we are going to get the small Fire TV dongle for the guest bedroom.


I sold my Raspberry Pi so use little Linux but am going to make a custom Windows like install for all the XP People try to give me that are just not worth upgrading to Windows 7 even. I get several full systems a year including the 19" flat screen monitors because folks replaced the whole systems! I had been donating them to Goodwill but will repurpose them as Linux boxes and sell them for 30 bucks or some such stupid price. Enough so that the buyer tries hard to learn Linux, but no cheap enough to tempt anyone to throw it out in frustration.


See my other post in a few minutes un computers because Linux is doing something about their exposure to Windows users that astounded me this AM.


Apple is reinventing itself and has the cash on hand to do it. They are now finding others doing smartphones and tablets that outperform the iPhones and Pads in both SoC power, full OS instead of Phone OS on Windows tablets, and in Android have more design functions that are soon copied by the other two.


It will be a really interesting short term advancement for all in the next four years to 2020. Remember that it was only four years ago when Windows 8 came out, and the RT tablets that were a 9 million dollar write off within a year were debuted. Only four years ago! All four major players are making amazing changes and reinventing themselves, MS, Apple, Linux, and Google.


Like MS, Apple has the cash on hand and the staff to successfully navigate their own path to 2020. All of them have to or wither away like Blackberry and Palm Pilots (I still have my Palm III and dock and software that works great if I ever decide to pay for a serial to USB converter dongle.)


I don't discount Apple. I 've been an Apple watcher since 2005 when they changed their hardware and software from PowerPC chipsets to Windows PC chipsets 100% in their Macs.


I owned Android Tablets and phones before Windows. The iPhones and iPads are the only ones I have not owned in one form or another. I used early Macs in my Engineering classes for the CAD/CAM part in the school's computer lab in 1987. It took me a bit to comprehend the usefulness of the mouse, which only Apple had.

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I worked as a Forester for 40 years.


At year ONE my employer came to me and said you need to learn to program a computer.


Years later, the Forest Supervisor came to me and said the Regional Office was considering getting rid of two technical specialists that ran complex software. I said fine, but be aware I do NOT keep current on the software and instead depend on the Regional Office folks to help me when I need their expertise. So IF their positions are eliminated, I would have to shift my work priorities to stay current on THAT software since it is rarely needed, but mission critical. In the long run, it was much cheaper to keep them in their positions and leave the 20 of us on the National Forests to focus on OUR jobs.


That is the argument for simple software.


I worked as a Forester. Computers and associated software was PART of my job. Simple software that worked without a long learning curve meant that I could focus on being a FORESTER and not a computer programmer.


Granted I am biased, but to me SIMPLE software is more important than all the bells and whistles that are typically added to software.

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Google stopped supporting Picasa which to me was the ultimate editing program early in the century.


I loved my Chromebook for its simplicity but recently gave it to my wife and took back the MacBook so I could get all of our 100's or 1000's of photos in order. I used Picasa for that because it was so easy and simple. Low and behold, Picasa is going away. Why? Now it is all about the cloud which I find much harder to deal with: upload, download. Ugh. I'm another of those who started on Commodores and used to be on the cutting edge but now just want a simple and easy computer to email, surf, organize photos, etc. I have always favored Apple because of its commitment to simplicity. But that evidently is no longer their goal.

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I'm with you Earl, and not OS centric except to say If I knew Macs like I know Windows I would be using a Mac. It is a contrast but when MS made Windows simpler they masses including me hated Win 8 at first, then I got better with it by 8.1 and loved it, and now Windows 10 is like going back to the best of 7 and 8.1.


Simpler is better for all of us, regardless of the maker of the OS. Simple also means using the convention so it is "intuitive feeling" to long time users.

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