1st Aug, 2006

caricature
I completely agree with Passionate Users today (http://headrush.typepad.com/creating_passionate_users/2006/07/we_cant_leave_i.html) that you can't leave it up to users to know what they need or ask for it. Finding out what they want is hard enough and it's not a user's job to know what system would improve their life and work properly for the business.

It goes for little things; I didn't know I wanted a running word count in the status bar until it showed up in Word 2007. I thought I wanted word count on demand, but actually ambient word count is more useful. Of course there are things we users know we want; I've been telling people at Microsoft in detail what I wanted for timezones in Outlook and lo, Outlook 2007 has a Timezons button for appointments. It goes for big things; I might say I want a macro to export an Excel table to ICS format so I can import it into Outlook's calendar, but what I'm really asking for is an integrated accounting and time management system.

But I'm going to take Passionate to task for saying "The world never needed the iPod until Apple created it". One; I needed it. Two; Apple may have created the iPod but it was neither the first MP3 player (Eiger Labs branding of Saehan) nor the first hard-drive based MP3 player. That was the 5GB Hango Personal Jukebox (PJB-100), designed by Compaq, abandoned to a Korean company without the distribution or marketing to get it out there. Back in 1998 you might have seen me testing the anti-skip on the hard drive by hurling it across the table at lproven in The Lamb, or being dragged back onto the pavement just before I got run over by a taxi I didn't hear because I had headphones on. I was copying MP3s from my PC, making playlists, browsing my library with an easy to use menu system and generally making like I had an iPod. (The PJB site has become a shop but CNET remembers and so do I http://reviews.cnet.com/4520-6450_7-5622055-1.html)

What Apple did was take an existing product, design it beautifully, make it with the cheapest possible components engineered to an inch past their predicted life and market it superbly. That's what Apple does. Their innovation is all in the implementation; it's all in the delivery. That's OK - that's often what the user needs to realise that this is something they really do need. A geek will have hunted out the first version (and probably written a macro to get around the problems that Apple will smooth over in the design). Just don't tell them they didn't know they needed it till someone prettied it up.

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