It's all about looks

Touch is great thing, suddenly you can touch, tap, double tap, flick, pinch and stretch to manipulate virtual object. It really revamped the whole mobile business mainly with the release of the iPhone and the capacitive touch screens, used in most smartphones today. But also in the stuff using infrared matrix screens like the Neonode back in 2004 that had quite good gesture control but never took off.

But let the touch stay there in a virtual interface on the screen. We all know and love what we got there. But if you have a real physical nice button DON'T MAKE IT A TOUCH BUTTON. Physical buttons should stay physical, a touch button is actually just an approximation to the real thing. That was cool in the 80-ties. If you really, really, can't help yourself, at least keep them safe from accidental touch. I’ll give you some example from bad to worse …

The new XBOX 360

This device uses touch to open the tray door and for the on/off switch. Its not a big problem here, the XBOX isn’t moved around much and mostly you don’t touch it by accident. But sometimes, you need to move it. I have it hidden away and I was opening the doors and accidently opened the tray. The sound it made when it hit the wall wasn’t too pleasing but it survived.

My stove

This one is even more annoying. The buttons are placed close to where you normally would have physical buttons and it works well when you and navigate them. But there are a few occasions… If you accidentally cover them they start to do all sorts of crazy stuff until the stove, as a security feature, shut down totally. Also, when you have a big handle cover one panel it reacts,  suddenly you wonder what happen until you realize that you have turned off the heat.

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My Samsung Omnia 7

This is by far one of the worst examples of touch buttons. It doesn’t provide any functionality other than looks (and I think you could have gotten the same look with real buttons, with the right materials). It is constantly in the way and trying to play a game is almost impossible as you have your whole thumb over the buttons. I nearly thrown this out the window…

Are there any good versions?

Well I think my old Bang&Olufsen sound system from 1991 is ok, touch button is not a killer feature but adds coolness to this piece of machinery, not that I know what I’m going to use my CD-player or cassette deck for anymore Smile

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B&O 4500 with the military grade remote - could easily take out any enemy

It’s also good in that it’s easy to keep clean, it does not produce any false taps or clicks (being placed on a wall and all). It’s only a design thing using touch here but it doesn’t make it worse, besides, it’s the massive one pound remote that is used to control this…

The stove, again, is actually also a good contender for touch buttons:

Easy to clean

There is one really good reasons for using touch here and it compensates for the problems. It’s so easy to keep clean.

So, a final plea!

I first thought of this when I moved in and started the fight with my stove. Then there was mockups leaks of the Windows Phone 7 HTC models. Then when I got my Samsung Omnia 7 in October. I think this is THE most annoying “feature” of the Omnia. But now there as a bigger threat - the mockups that Nokia made for the new Windows Phone 7 models. Look here:


This is really scary, touch buttons, and even worse than the Samsung Omnia, the home button is also touch here. This is going to drive at least me crazy. So please forget about touch here!

Don’t steal my screen!

The other day I was un-installing a software package from Telerik and the process was quite long. So I was reading along a few blog posts when I suddenly got a modal dialog in my face, actually it was a monolog as I was not able to act on it. It was just a message to me that the uninstall process felt that It really had to force me to read. So it kicked up the following message on top of everything:


No matter what i did, the windows 7 show desktop (right bottom corner), WIN-D or whatever. The application really felt that this message was so important it had to sit on top of everything for a couple of minutes.

Its almost like the old: Are you sure you want to exit? question. And actually I thought we got rid of that a couple of years ago. But whaddayaknow, it’s still out there in the various shapes and as you can see it has moved to the web… And I got one just the other day but I have already erased and forgotten that application.

Anyways, it really is simple, as the process of installing and uninstalling is something that takes a little time, just make sure it will be executed in the background. I have better things to do than look at a message that  is completely rubbish. Actually it’s not just this little dialog, when installing the toolkit, it places a full screen window on top of everything. This windows have all the controls for maximize, minimize and close but it will not react to them… At least I was able to minimize with the WIN-D keys…

//Håkan Reis

Microsoft just released it’s ASP.NET MVC 1.0 framework source code the other day, and it’s under Microsoft public license, an open source approved license. Just for fun I went to the Open Source Initiatives license pages and read it. And to my surprise it was short, to the point, no nonsense information on what you could and could not do with the software. For once I didn’t feel I had to go through five years of law school just to understand the basics. So ho short is it? It’s 408 word in plain understandable English.

But how well does this compare to other licenses? Well a comparison between some other popular licenses gave some interesting facts:

The only popular license that is simpler is the New and Simplified BSD licenses that lands on 443 words but actually the license part is only 222 words in plain English.

And for a fun comparison: the legal designers at Apple came up with a 3155 words, hard-to-read license called Apple Public Source License.

Beside MS-PL and Simplified BSD there are only one more readable license I found and that’s the Simple Public License 2.0 with 447 words.

So, do people really understand what the license they are using are telling them or are they using GPL or Apache licenses just because everyone else are using it?

// Håkan Reis

Why time reporting sucks

Dali time Do you think that wasting $150 000 000 of your clients money is ok or have you heard of any companies that does that and get away with it (that are not lawyers)?

Chances are that you are doing business with one of them. But lets start from the beginning here and I’ll get to the $150 million in a while.

This year we got a new time report system at work, and as usual it’s a mess. There is a user experience here but only of confusion and annoyance.  A couple of hideous  problems I spotted in just a few minutes of use were:

  • In this system we are forced to use an arcane time code for each report period. The crypto looks like 208522. If you decipher it you get 2008, 52 and the last is 1 or 2 depending on if it it's the first or second month in that week (when the month is shifting). This is just ridicules, we have been using the roman calendar for a couple of thousands years. The porting period calendar code is not logical for any user (not even the developer).
  • For each cell we have to use codes, and to find out what codes to use a modal JavaScript dialog is presented where you can do a search that lists a few projects and their code. Each time it takes 3-4 clicks to enter the correct codes. But in this system you have project codes, activities codes, customers codes, account codes, etc.

So how about the numbers then? Well, just the two problems on top here will keep on eating up a couple of minutes each day. Our company size is around 150 people so this mean about 600 hours lost each year. I have no idea how many users the system has, but they claim that 2 600 companies are using their system. Taking our company as an average company is at least a start so lets use that figure. This adds up to 1.5 million hours. With an hourly rate around $100 you get $150 000 000 every single year down the drain.

So what gives them the right to cost their client so much? Is it that they have especially lazy developers or did they really think they could come up with a better calendar. Actually, the truth is that there are many more time report systems out there and I haven’t came across a single one that’s much better and a few that are even worse. This micros study of mine revealed a few common facts on time reports:

  • All the reporting systems spring from the economic context. In that context we are often thrown back to entering long rows of numerical data. Codes may make sense in this context as they speed up the entry on a numeric key-pad.
  • The next problem is that they try to solve time reporting for everyone. The average user will not need to list 300 clients to find the right one even if the company might have all those clients. You don’t have a gigantic hierarchy of projects, tasks and activities. Actually, if you have demand that fine grained control of every hour you are probably wasting your clients and employees time and money.
  • The users of the system do not share the context of time reporting. A small group of users are using as one of their main tool, they might want codes and shortcuts as it can speed up their work. But the biggest user group are probably the ones that report into the system. They might use it one time a day on that occasion they don’t want to waste time on searching for codes.

money Actually the solution to some of these issues are quite simple but that doesn’t mean it’s simple to implement. But to start with they could at least get to know their users, and by users I don’t mean customers.

The system will have to be created with a dual view, of course it has to support the the ones that are using the reported time for calculation, planning and business. But there is not a contradiction in supporting the other bigger user group here, the ones that has to enter data. If the overhead for entering my time were just a minute or two a day instead of 10-15, I might not be that annoyed. I could use their system instead of the simple app in my iPhone that keeps track of my projects and how much time I spend on each.

And for the two problems found in our current system there are two super simple solutions that I give away for free.

  • Let me use the calendar i know and use (you know the one that starts with January and ends with December)
  • Provide me with incrementally searchable dropdowns with real projects and activities names – not the damn codes.

Ah well, I should probably report that time from last week instead of writing up this rant. And I really hope my company will not just lose money on the system, but save a dime or two on the reports and invoices that it produces.

// Håkan Reis