I remember a story told at a tech conference back in the 90’s about a company testing PC’s. They had set up a desk with a PC, monitor, mouse, and keyboard in a room with a one way mirror for observation. The subjects had varying levels of computer skills and were given a list of tasks to perform. One subject was an older man. He approached the setup, stopped, stared, then picked up the mouse and began speaking his commands into it. The observers laughed and retold the story for years. Moral of the story is none of them stopped to ask why couldn’t it work this way?
I’ve had real life experience with this as well. A company I support is a scale based operation. Several years ago their scale interfaces were parallel based and the software system was DOS based. This system was very efficient. In businesses like this time is money and any delay costs this company and the truck drivers money. The software vendor decided it was time to upgrade to a NT network with Windows clients. A hotshot 20-something programmer developed the system without ever getting his shoes dusty at a client site. Delivery day came and the vendor owner armed with techs show up at the site. After working their way through hundreds of trucks lined up for the scale to open, they made it to the scale house and unloaded their equipment. The owner came into the office looking startled and mumbled, “this will never work”.
I always find it fascinating and frequently informative to watch people at the companies I support in how they use technology. It may not be “be the book” but they get the job done. An engineer once told me when reviewing an elaborate but poor drainage design that you can do all you want water is taking the quickest, easiest path.
I know there is balance in design and we cannot let end users design every system. Otherwise we would have many more entries in the Rube Goldberg Award contest. I thought about several reviews recently of the iPad and several discussions I have heard saying it is simply a toy. I personally find it useful. It may be that neither my nor other techies opinions matter. What are people doing or attempting to do with this technology? I brought my iPad along for a recent trip to the doctor’s office. My doctor and I had a conversation about the coolness of it but then she told me about other doctors determined to make it work in their practice. They are not waiting for others to make it happen, they are forcing it to happen. I am certain this is not an isolated case.
My question is who is going to run with this? Who is going to make the devices, who will write the apps, who will design the infrastructure? Let’s not laugh at the ones attempting to use iPads in different ways. Let them tell the story years from now about how we embraced it and brought forward the next leap in technology.