Thursday, January 28, 2010

Interface & Interaction Matter

For those who don't get what the iPad is all about (more on that in another post), let me tell you about a recent experience:

My home A/V setup is complicated to use. I have a TV with only two inputs, a DVD/VCR combo unit with only two inputs (and the VCR doesn't output on S-Video by design), a Wii, and a MacBook Pro that I sometimes want to hook up.

To watch TV: turn on the TV.

To watch a DVD: turn on the TV, set it to Video 1 (S-Video), Turn on the DVD/VCR, set it to DVD mode.

To watch a tape: turn on the TV, set it to Video 2, Turn on the DVD/VCR, set it to VCR mode.

To play the Wii: turn on the TV, set it to Video 2, Turn on the DVD/VCR, set it to VCR mode, set the channel to Line 1, turn on the Wii.

To watch the Mac: turn on the TV, set it to Video 2, Turn on the DVD/VCR, set it to VCR mode, set it to Line 2, plug in the Mac.

To shut things off: shut each device off separately.

It worked, and being cheap^H^H^H^H^Hfrugal, I was happy.

And then the TV remote finally died. So I had to buy a new one. Over the years, I've heard good things about the Harmony remote, so I splurged AND got the cheapest model, the Logitech Harmony 510. Now, the Harmony remote is activity based; you program it with all the above steps, it turns on and off and sets the appropriate devices.

To watch TV: Press "Activities" followed by TV button.

To watch a DVD: Press "Activities" followed by the DVD button.

To watch a tape: Press "Activities" followed by the tape button.

To play the Wii: Press "Activities" followed by the Wii button. Then pick up the Wii controllers.

To watch the Mac: Press "Activities", followed by a next page button (only room for four activities on the main screen), followed by the Mac button. (I still have to hook it up because I'm too cheap^H^H^H^H^Hfrugal to buy a Mac Mini and wireless video isn't quite here yet.) Surprisingly, it also lets me control Front Row on my Mac directly from the remote.

To shut things off: Press the power button.

It turns out, I wasn't happy before.

I'm very happy now. It is now a real pleasure to do any of those activities, all because of the remote. Who knew?

I've had this inspiration before, where I realized I had put up with far too much frustration: the first time I hooked a Mac up to a network (1990), reading the Unix Hater's Handbook (1994), the first time I got wireless (1999), my first iPhone (2007).

When do I expect this to happen to me again? When I get an iPad.

Now, a friend of mine got my kids the Magic Wand remote. I'll have to learn how to use that one as well, if only for the cool Harry Potter factor.