A while back I posted this to my Facebook profile: a Forbes article stating that the new competitive edge in tech is moving towards liberal arts - namely, as technology gets more and more automated with scrips, frameworks and read-made modules, the edge will come from those tech companies that pay attention to the human side of tech, how tech products will be built to be beautiful and useful to actual humans, not just high performing pieces of technology.
Now, there is more proof coming this way: Google just announced the launch of OnHub, their own wireless router, which is a brilliant piece of designed-with-humans-in-mind product. Having worked with a cable and broadband provider, I was first in line seeing how many issues people have with wireless routers, so I know for a fact that OnHub is going to be brilliant. Let's see why:
Fact 1: Wireless routers are ugly. And people tend to hide them as a result.
People put them under desks, behind TV sets, plants and pots. And this damages the signal and lowers speed - making you very unhappy about your internet. OnHub is beautiful, sleek and comes in a variety of colors to fit your environment. Check! So now people won't hide it and the signal will stay strong.
Fact 2: Routers are flat, tend to gather dust, therefore people cover them.
Or maybe they cover them because they are ugly :). This also dooms hell for the signal. OnHub is tall and you definitely cannot put anything on top of it.
Fact 3: Signal will be poor if there are many networks around. So you have to manually change frequencies.
Whenever my Internet is slow, I call to customer support and invariably get the same answer: "It appears there are many networks around and I have to change your frequency" Duh! And I sit there on the phone for about 20 minutes 2-3 times a week. Brilliant! Is that why people want wireless at home? Guess not! OnHub has a dedicated antenna for measuring frequencies and channels and automatically transfers you to the best one available.
Fact 4: Lots of small lights blinking, you never know what all of them mean (no real, understandable feedback system)
Feedback, clear and correct, is one of Dan Norman's principle of good design. Routers seem to have it all mixed up and the only troubleshooting I know is unplugging the damn thing off! Granted, it works sometimes! OnHub does it better. It has a phone app that guides you through troubleshooting, helps you set up the network, share the password with visitors (great! now I won't have to leave the party, crouch behind my TV set and try to decipher the password).
So, there you have it! Proof that design and really understanding what humans want from a product can improve even the most mundane and ugly piece of equipment. I wonder why Asus, Samsung, Thomson and other providers haven't figured this out?
What pieces of technology do you think can be improved on?