Wednesday, October 21, 2015

A nice post on the lack of Age Diversity in Silicon Valley

Here's a nice post on age diversity that I came across this morning. One thing that struck me as funny though. For all of the lack of age diversity in Silicon Valley, if you look at the companies that actually make silicon and the semiconductor manufacturing industry, you'll see a different landscape.

How Can We Achieve Age Diversity in Silicon Valley?

Apple's iPhone 6s Plus is Not the best phone I've ever owned

One of the phrases that always makes me laugh -- particularly after a new iPhone launch -- is when they get somebody and quote them as saying, "this is the best phone ever." With iPhone generations past, that was sometimes true for me, I was sometimes that guy. You think about some of those phones and how amazing that they were at the time, and they really were some of the best phones ever.

Unfortunately, I can't say the same about the iPhone 6s Plus. It is not the best. It is not the worst. For me, the overall phone enclosure is an inferior design wrapper around a pretty basic set of predictable feature enhancements. The iPhone 5 style of enclosure was better. Sure aspects like the bigger display wouldn't fit into the iPhone 5/5s enclosure, but for everything that this device gained in terms of enhancements, it has given up a lot.

Hardware Design Elements that Suck on the iPhone 6s Plus
First of all, let me start by saying that the iPhone 6s Plus is way too damned big. Yes, the large size is nice for watching Netflix videos and the "Zoom" feature actually transforms the proportions in the on-screen display to be something much more like the far more readable pre-iOS 7 operating system. Zoom is almost enough to overcome some of the crappy aspects of the iOS7/8 UI. But I'm not going to focus on the "too damned big" aspect. Let's assume for a minute that that is a choice. In this case, what I'm going to reference is how that oversized design impacts other usage aspects.

Which brings me to the worst aspect of the iPhone 6s and the Plus, the decision to move the power button to the right side of the device. This is, for me, one of the biggest functional blunders that Apple has made in the history of the hardware. While the button the top has it's limitations and issues, moving it to the side opposite the volume up button means that when you squeeze the power button, your natural leverage point is opposite that point. It's why you see things with two little grippy handles on opposite sides of a grab point. Squeezing both probably happens more often on the 6s Plus because it's so large, too damned big. But seriously, who puts two buttons on the opposite poles of a gripping point unless they are meant to be squeezed together?

Next, and I think I've written about this before, the protruding lens on the back also screams mistake. The protruding lens is kind of like saying you must use a case. Otherwise, when you lay the phone down on it's back, one of the resting points is always going to be the lens. It may be made of super scratch resistant material, but it doesn't remove the dumb from this design issue.

This phone. This feels like one of those times when somebody brings you a design and says, "Isn't it great?" and then all of the designer's friends all say, "I love it" and everyone tries to tell you that it's great. But it's not. For me, the worst part is, if there's a trend line, I don't like the way that Apple is going. They seem to have lost their way. 

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

New Winter'16 Data/Lead Import Engine FAIL!

I just got done hacking my way through the new data import wizard in's recently released Winter16 update. It's mind-boggling. What a piece of crap this thing is. They have attempted to make it more "Lightning" like, but in doing so, they've managed to add a tremendous overhead to the process. So let's talk about the stupid stuff that they've done:
  • Added a "gamefied" progress bar at the top of the screen to let you know where you are in the process. 
  • Field mapping is graphically enhanced, but if you happened to leave an empty column in your spreadsheet, forget about ignoring it. The idiotic tool stands like a moronic Gandalf -- "no mapping for Department? You shall not pass!"
  • So you update the file and then you discover that, "Lead Status" is a required field. Sure every lead you've ever imported assigns "Open" to new leads, but not Salesforce's brilliant new lead import engine. Instead, you need to add a field or you get the moronic Gandalf again. 
It took me nearly four passes just to import one lead. So far, my observations -- Winter16, you suck! New data import engine, EPIC FAIL!

Friday, October 16, 2015

Confirmed at Apple Store: iPhone 6s Reservation System Sucks

With all of the frustration that I've been having with Apple's terrible online reservation system, I was a little worried that I might be complaining a lot while being stupid -- that if I just went over to the store, I could wait in a line that would give me access to a separate lot of inventory that was different that the online reservation system inventory.

However, any optimism on my part was quickly squashed with a visit to the Apple Store. What I learned / confirmed:
  • The only inventory available in the store each day is through the online reservation system.
  • There is no line at the store. The reservation system is supposed to help save you a trip to the store
  • There is no way to do the leasing / upgrade program without purchasing in the store.
  • There was virtually no surprise at my frustration with the online reservation system from the clerk at the store working the door.
But probably the number one thing that I confirmed with a trip to the Apple Store is that the online reservation system SUCKS.

It really is kind of astonishing to me how a brand that I used to value so highly could become one that generates such anger in me now.

AT&T Wireless Customer Service FAIL

A funny thing happened on the way to pay my AT&T Wireless bill. It turned into a great example of a customer service FAIL.

It all started back in July when my cell phone bill was due and, for whatever reason, my credit union's ability to process credit cards went down for the morning. I tried to pay my AT&T bill using the iPhone app and the payment kept not going through.

Because I was in the middle of set-up for a tradeshow, it was important to me that my cell service not be interrupted, I added a payment option to do a direct pay from my credit union checking account. And, thinking I was tired of the hassle of going through the steps to pay each month, I decided to set up auto-pay.

About a month later, I started receiving notices that my bill was past due. So I called AT&T. After working with their customer support, they confirmed that auto-pay was set up, and suggested that it would probably be a couple of days and the payment would go through. Just an issue between "billing day" and "payment day" that should resolve after the weekend. And the customer service rep told me he added a note to my file about the issue.

A couple of weeks later, AT&T started calling me again, letting me know that my bill was now very past due. And so I called again. This customer service rep told me that it usually takes one or two billing cycles before auto-pay kicks in. According to this one, the last guy didn't tell me about the delay. My options at this point were to pay this one and by next month or so, auto-pay should have kicked in.

So you're probably not surprised to learn that AT&T was calling me again last week. Nor will it surprise you that my bill was past due AGAIN. So this morning, I stayed on the line to talk to another customer service rep. She started the call ready to take my payment. When I explained some of the back story, she looked it up. Note, I find it surprising that they don't make this case history information more visible in their call screens. Anyway, after going back through it, she explained that it looked like their system had tried to process the payment, then gone to sleep. It would still need another two billing cycles before it would kick-in. Her suggestion was that I could pay October and November and that, by that time, auto-pay should work.

Now, it's important to keep in mind that I used their system as it's set up and, at no time had it successfully work. However, I find it laughable that I should keep dancing around, trying to make their crappy system work. Somehow, this is my problem? This is a customer service FAIL. It was all I could do to refrain from yelling at the customer service rep. At the same time, I felt bad for her. AT&T's shitty system put her on the front lines of a complete flounder.

And worse than that -- after going through all of this AND paying my bills, what compensation does AT&T offer me for their system not working? Nothing.

AT&T, your customer customer service SUCKS. Nice people on the front lines to not overcome a shitty infrastructure or shitty practices.

One Week Later, iPhone 6s Reservation System Still Sucks

I've been out of town for a week, so I didn't bother playing the iPhone 6s reservation system game all week. This morning, I dove in for a new round only to see that Apple's system still sucks. This morning I actually thought I reserved a device at Stanford only to be denied then returned to Stanford as an option for a second chance at reserving it -- which likewise failed.

My best guess is that Apple has some sort of widget or cross-site authentication working that my browser blocks (as I run a fairly locked down browser).

On a side note, while watching some television show or another, I happened to notice one of the characters using an iPhone and, probably because of the timing of when it was filmed, the older iOS interface was displayed on the device. It's an annoying reminder that, once upon a time, the iPhone used to be the best phone ever. And yet now, simply because of the user interface, I often find myself wanting to throw my iPhone across the room -- particularly after a number of repeated attempts to active some control that requires an extremely precise interaction with the touchscreen. That's the way that they've designed the new UI. Terrible.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Apple's UI Design Sucks: More Examples of How Apple has Lost it's Way

I happened to catch a clip of an old interview with Steve Jobs on NPR's Fresh Air yesterday. It was early 1990s Steve Jobs, but one of the things that he said about the Macintosh was this notion of bringing "a liberal arts mindset to the computer". If there is anything that embodies a classic Apple value, it is -- or was -- this notion of good design.

Good design isn't simply interesting colors and appearances that make you go wow, it's functional, meaningful, and with purpose. And this aspect is where Apple has totally gone off the rails. A perfect reminder of it, one that I find myself interacting with nearly every day, is the iTunes interface on the phone. I've collected some screenshots for you.
This shot is taken of a view inside a playlist. Each time I launch iTunes on the phone, Apple defaults to taking me to "My Library". It doesn't matter whether I use playlists or whether I was last using playlists. While this is an improvement from the previous generation that always took me to Apple Radio, it's annoyingly dumb.

But there are multiple aspects that suck. Here you'll see the tiny control for playing the playlist. Alternatively, you can click on the specific tune to get it to play.

Another aspect that sucks is Transparency. I've already written about how frustratingly in the way transparency is on the desktop. Here, it's grabbing color from the album image to shade the background, making the UI more difficult to navigate. Even more useless is if you build a playlist using multiple artists. It uses the background from the first album in the playlist.

The team at Apple is probably patting themselves on the back for how they extract color from the album image to define the color palette, selecting the background and then the contrasting colors. But being clever doesn't make it good design. Here's an example of a playlist that is quite difficult to read.

Controls that don't work well suck, regardless of how cool they look
The primary function of iTunes is to make it easy to organize and play the electronic music files that you have stored on your device. If it's difficult to operate the controls, then the UI sucks. If your using iTunes and you're listening to a track, the track progress indicator is a thin little line around the play button on the track and a thin line running through the middle of the controller at the bottom. If you want to fast forward or rewind, you need to interact with line -- or attempt to find another screen to control the software.

You might expect the three dots on the right side of the screen to open a set of options including the option for a larger set of controls, but it doesn't. Instead, it opens the option to add or remove from the playlist.

The main function of this software is to play music and yet it makes the controls for doing this nearly impossible to access.

This is why any love that I may have had for Apple products is being trampled and crushed. New Apple is high fructose corn syrup sweetened and tastes nothing like the product we've grown to love over the years.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

iPhone 6s Reservations: Better than Silicon Valley Traffic

It's hard to get out on the road in Silicon Valley these days without getting a bit road ragey. First there's the traffic. Add to that the frustration multipliers when you have people pull unbelievably dangerous traffic moves. Some classics are the "I'm in the far right lane on the right and my GPS (Waze seems to like doing this) says I need to turn left here, so I'm going to just make my way across four lanes to get into the turn lane" move. These people move as though there is nobody else in their world. Anyway, as I rant, I can feel the blood pressure rise. The joys of Silicon Valley.

But before you get out in traffic, what you really need is something to kick the blood pressure up, get you amped before you have to sit in your car and celebrate the traffic stress. My new favorite game is trying to reserve an iPhone at the Apple Store. It's become like a frustrating boss sequence, but with no resolution, no victory over the boss. Instead, I get nothing... except for my traffic frustration warm-up.

And as I click through the process, the million stupid clicks to try and reserve a model of the iPhone that I already know Apple won't have, I'm reminded of what a stupid process it is. Click. Click. Click. Through the entire sequence. Oops, you tried to click through to quickly and it defaulted to "see if your eligible for an upgrade from AT&T and what your payment terms may be". Back. Back. Now, you finally reach the store game -- the real boss fight.

You select your first store and you already know that they won't have inventory. It's one of those wasted attacks, something just to engage the boss. Then you start going through all of the stores in your area. The click. Location. Model. Carrier. Poop. Again. Then, just for fun, you start looking around the state, clicking on stores that you know you'd never drive to. Bakersfield. Carlsbad. Hey, they have a rose gold 16GB model Carlsbad.

Now you're ready for traffic.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Apple's iPhone 6s Reservation System FAIL: Round 2

A new morning and another attempt to use the Apple iPhone 6s reservation system. This time, I tried to be extra prepared. I logged into the Apple site before I selected my phone in an effort to bypass the post selection login. At 8:00am I was ready with a phone selection, but the site doesn't actually show California as an option until about 8:01. I'll blame Comcast's caching for that. Once again, the first store has no inventory, so I wound up trying various South Bay locations. Stanford had a 128GB, so I decided to try that.

Oh, you found one? Time to login. That's right, Apple's Online Store registration doesn't interact with the iPhone registration reservation. Same ID, same credentials, but you have to reenter them. And by that time, as you can imagine, the phone was gone. Again.

This morning made my decision for me, however. I will not be upgrading my iPhone. As I have done with other stores and products that deliver a poor experience like this, I'm walking out. This customer experience is not good enough to get my money.

I remember purchasing my iPhone 5. At the time, I was extremely happy with it. It was the best phone I'd ever owned. The hardware, the design, it was beautiful and elegant. To this day, I still don't put it in a case. The only reason that I might even need to upgrade it is because of the software. That's right, what's wrong with my existing iPhone is that Apple broke it. Everything that I hate about my current phone revolves around how the updates that they've made to iOS have made my phone function poorly. Increasingly poorly. Like software bloat.

Sure I might like a faster processor and more memory, maybe even a better camera. But all of those things, they won't fix the OS. They won't fix the software.

Apple, if you're reading this, you'll find some unopened iPhone accessories sitting in the basket there, the electronic shopping cart in whichever store might happen to have iPhone inventory. I left it there and I'm not coming back for it.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Apple's iPhone 6s Reservation Web Site FAIL

One of the reasons why I'm hesitant to upgrade my iPhone is that I often find so much of Apple's modern software design to be... lacking really understates it. Sometimes it seems like the design choices made are so bad that they actually damaging to the user experience (e.g. transparency). I've written about some of these terrible design elements in the past. With that being said, I had recently been convinced that I should go ahead and upgrade my phone. And that's what lead me to the "excitement" of the line and really highlighted the failure of the iPhone 6s reservation feature on Apple's site.

Here's the story. You can purchase an iPhone online using the web site reservation system. First, you need to select all of the aspects of the iPhone that you want: choose either 6s or 6s plus, choose your color, choose your storage, then choose your carrier. Then you're presented with a list of additional options like Apple Care and a case and a dock. These don't actually add to the displayed total and, selecting something like Apple Care actually pops open a wind with a 2-click agreement process, but it's all presented as though it's essential to choose it at that time.

Anyway, then you get to choose how you want to buy your phone: continue through the online store or reserve an iPhone for pick-up in a store. Cool, I want to reserve one for purchase at the store. This takes you to a page where you need to select your state, then select your store. If it just so happens that there's no inventory available for reservation at that store, the site kicks you out of the process and dumps you into this stupid loop. You must now choose another store in your state, reselect the model that you would like, then reselect your carrier choice. One you've done this, your presented with an array of available models by capacity and color.

But here's the part that fails. Instead of presenting only options with inventory, you're presented with the complete list. The system isn't intelligent enough to know if you're wasting your time. And so, if inventory is running out fast, if you don't land a good shot on your first shot, you're hosed. All they had to do was limit the options presented to sites with available inventory and... well, you get the idea.

But it's worse than that.

Every morning, the inventory refreshes at 8:00 am. I started this process several days ago and discovered aspects of the inventory / reservation site challenge. So I decided to attempt a start as soon as the inventory refreshed. The first day's attempt looked a lot like the previous evening's attempt. No inventory at any of the stores in the south bay. Yesterday, I actually got to a phone and selected it, only to be informed that I needed to log into Apple with my AppleID in order to complete the registration process. By the time me and OnePassword got through with unlocking my AppleID, the phone that I reserved was gone and the nearest phone was in Palo Alto at Stanford. Unfortunately, by the time that I selected an appointment time, that option was gone too.

As a consumer, I hate it when a store doesn't have the product that I'm looking for. I've left baskets of items that I collected at Safeway and walked out of the store when I discovered that they were out of a product that I was looking for. Part of that is, why should I put up with your crappy check-out line process if you don't have the product that I want.

In this case, Apple's online reservation system is so frustratingly bad that I'm considering skipping the iPhone 6s and not upgrading. When your purchase experience is so bad that it may outweigh the "awesome" new features of your product, that my friends is a FAIL.