Archive for May 10, 2012

Is the world of google any better?

May 10, 2012 Leave a comment

Lately I have been pondering if the online apps of google really has made the world any better. Dont get me wrong, google is by far the #1 driving force behind moving from native, local applications – to global, browser-based applications. But while their ideas and concepts are brilliant – their minimalistic vision of user interface design leaves a lot to be desired. As does their lack of respect for people’s privacy and how they make their money by boxing people in.

Let’s take the design problem first: which is probably best expressed under Gmail. Where good old outlook express displayed your messages in a listview (express) or tree node (office) structure, making it very easy to see the exact chain of correspondence. This simple interaction between the reader and the content Gmail turns into a complete flurry of text. I often find myself replying not to the latest email, but to an older message by mistake, because it’s not easy to tell the header from the preview line. And yes, I know you can change themes but the palette they have used are either high contrast (which gives me a spiking headache after some hours) or soft crayons (which is just as evil).

After 8 hours and hundreds of emails, this GUI will seem like a paradise compared to gmail

After 8 hours and hundreds of emails, this GUI will seem like a paradise compared to Gmail

When Google and Apple started to take a bite out of the world-wide web I was initially very optimistic. Microsoft had ruled that gig for so long that it was about time that someone new and fresh got into the game – but now I’m starting to question the development of the past 8 years. Is really GMail better than outlook? I mean the news reader in outlook was fantastic and so was the email layout. And also, is really my super-hyped, juiced up mac any better than Windows 7? Was it worth the money? Or is my iPhone really any better to call with than my old Nokia? Have you ever had your iPhone with you while jogging? If your hands are sweaty and someone calls, you can’t even unlock it – because the touchscreen doesn’t register your fingers due to moisture. And at home I can hardly get any reception in my basement office. With my old Nokia I could get a crystal clear reception in the caves of moria if I so desired.

Facts of life vs. bling

Gøtes color theorem

Gøtes color theorem

When Microsoft created Windows XP, they spent millions of dollars doing design research. They took into account every factor, things like color theorem (which colors complement each other, and what effect they have on the viewer’s mind), proportional layout – and they also took into account how a user interface would appear to people who are color blind, have poor eyesight and so on. But the most important factor was the long-term effect of working with the user interface. How well does the interface work after 8 hours? If the colors are slightly off, you can get anything from a headache to fatigue.

What google have done is to take all these factors and thrown them out of the window. But they have forgotten that these design rules were not invented by Microsoft. They are the laws of nature. The reason we have a color theorem is because, well, that’s how colors affect us from a scientific point of view. The reason a clear-cut border will cause less eye strain after 8+ hours is because the receptors in our eyes pick up clear borders easier than round, pastel colored drab.

Why do I put Apple and Google in the same basket? Because Apple is doing the exact same thing. If you have ever worked with the disabled or people with handicaps, you will know that mac’s are rarely their favorite machines. The combination of graphical effects and contrasts that hardly show up on the colorblind’s radar makes it a torturous adventure.

Cost effective

For me personally, both Google and Apple are awesome companies – but there comes a time when throwing ideas around has run its course. A time when you have to go back to what “works”. Hopefully google is done experimenting with design, privacy and data roaming. And hopefully apple is done bloating the universe with senseless features and denying you access to your own bloody hardware.

Møvenpic hotel outside of luxor, my favorite

Møvenpic hotel outside of Luxor, my favorite

And next time, I’m getting a real phone. One with buttons on it. My old Nokia cost me 500 NKR (less than $100) and I called for roughly 400 NKR a month. So give or take: a new Nokia phone + 1 year subscription cost me 5300 NKR a year (around $1000 in total). My iPhone alone cost me 8.500 NKR with a monthly call rate of around 500 NKR. So that’s 8500 + 6000 = 14500 NKR for one phone for a year. And I bought 2 of them (one for my wife as well).

The sub total equals 4 weeks vacation in a 5 star hotel in Sharm El Sheik, Egypt. Which sure as hell would have done a lot more for my headaches than Gmail.

When you sum up the expenses and added factors technology have gained for the past 8 years – from design problems to outright bloat – and weigh them against what is sensible, what works and what you really need to do your job – I find it hard to lobby for further innovation on Google and Apple’s part. There are always things to fix in the world of software, but there is a fine line between perfecting a product and exhausting it. A distinction that is clearly visible between Delphi 7 and Delphi XE2. Delphi 7 was the old Delphi perfected, and we had to wait until Delphi XE2 to find a product of equal quality. Between these versions were ideas that quite frankly exhausted both the technology and the user’s patience.

Turning your life into a product

And where the hell does google get off uploading pictures from my iPhone without asking? My kids were at a birthday party – and I really got pissed to see that my google app had automatically uploaded the pictures to my G+ account. What the hell! You don’t set a function like that to ON by default. As a result I have removed G+ and Facebook from my iPhone and iPad. And I’m seriously considering dropping my google account all together – and going back to Hotmail instead. Kidnapping data, selling your queries to advertising companies, data roaming — This is bordering on the insane. And to think they refused Microsoft to ship Windows with Internet Explorer. They should have blocked the google street view car as a threat to national security. It is by definition espionage on an international scale.

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