Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Crossing iPhone and the Surface

You know what I would like to see. A cross between an iPhone (touch screen, and usability) and the interface of the Surface.

Imagine a laptop with a LCD screen in place of the keyboard. This LCD screen will have the same form factor and multi-touch capabilities as the iPhone. It is software driven and hence can be reprogrammed to resemble any input device. Couple that with the interface of the Surface.

Now, we are talking something useful.

Imagine being able to change the Qwerty keyboard to a Dvorak keyboard with the click of a button. Or, imagine changing your English keyboard to a Mandarin keyboard. Or, turning the LCD panel into a Surface where you can interact with still pictures and video. Or, being able to interface to other electronic devices by just placing them on (or near) the laptop.

That is one powerful interface. Imagine turning your 'keyboard' into a graphic tablet and writing on it with a stylus. The possibilities are limitless. This would be a far more useful application of the Surface technology that Microsoft has come up with.

But, unfortunately, the technology behind the Surface doesn't lend itself to be molded into the form factor of a laptop. Microsoft will need to compress the technology to fit it into the form factor of a laptop.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Design for Assembly

Have you ever bought anything that required assembly? Have you noticed how easy or difficult it was to assemble it? Have you noticed why many people shy away from these "assembly required" things?

One of the main reasons is poor design for assembly.

When you design something that needs to be assembled by the end user, make sure that you keep the end user in mind. As a matter of fact, whenever you design anything (furniture, software, ...), it is always a good practice to keep the end user in mind.

Take the case of Sauder furniture which requires "some" assembly. The instruction manual is usually a book! The furniture, be it a simple bookcase or a chest of drawers, comes with a wide variety of screws, nuts and bolts, and a thick instruction manual. And, to top it all, once assembled, they cannot be taken off without damaging the furniture. At least Sauder uses pictures and words in their instructions. I have seen some companies just use words. God help the assembler.

Another thing that pisses me off is that they always include the exact number of fasterers required. What is their problem in adding a couple extra in each size? If one of the bolts has a bad thread, you have to call an 800 number to get it from them, or make a trip to the local Home Depot. Remember that you can't even return it back since you have already started assembly.

In contrast, look at the things manufactured by IKEA. Not only are they beautiful, they are designed with the end user in mind. Their instruction manuals are usually a page with pictures. I have rarely seen words on their instruction manuals. Talk about Internationalization. And, they standardise on the fasteners and try not to use too many varieties. Most of the times, the items can be easily taken apart (for re-transportation) too.

And, they have bins with extra fasteners in their warehouse so you can pick a few if you need them.

This is elegant and thoughtful 'design for assembly'.

And, they include the tools needed for the assembly (most of the time, an allen key) with each item they sell. Who wouldn't love that?

Apple is another case of great design. Look at this example where Apple has included a paper clip which is needed for maintenance work. Not only have they suggested you use a paper clip to get the job done, they have also included one with the product. How often can you find a paper clip at home when you need one? So, Apple is there to help you.

This is another great example of 'design for serviceability'.