Make Your X Here: Adapting to Technology That Should Adapt to Us

I recently visited an AT&T store to upgrade a phone. All the AT&T employees on the floor were using iPads to manage orders and service agreements with customers. This didn’t seem so strange to me. Using portable POS devices is nothing new after all. But what struck me is how awkward and slow the experience was.

The sales team member was excellent, helpful and well informed. Then she had to look up my customer account. Clearly, this used a web form of some kind, which required keying look up information. Even for a small woman, typing on the virtual keyboard was slow and uncomfortable looking. Her fingers could not assume the comfortable position associated with using a physical full sized keyboard, or even the more natural approach of using a stylus. Getting into the system was very slow.

What surprised me next was the authorization process. When it came time to sign – the expected signature is done using just your finger. No, not a finger print swipe. No, not using a stylus. Yes, using an actual finger, like you would finger paint your name back when you were in small pants. I managed to use a fingernail edge to get enough point to approximate a signature, but the results were quite dissimilar to my actual signature.

I can understand employing technology you sell in order to sell the technology. AT&T has a vested interest in selling iPhones and iPads with plans. Yet why are we having to adapt to shortcomings of technology like this? Years ago, I learned the shortform way of writing with a stylus in order to leverage the fantastic handwriting recognition of the PalmOS platform – but that was me, the technology professional doing that. I could also carry about a small, folding full sized keyboard to attach to it for writing on the road.

At some point, we’ve been convinced (again) that we need to adapt to the technology, rather than the technology adapting to us. It isn’t that difficult to convince a professional user of technology to adjust what they do to achive better productivity – but somehow joe on the street is convinced they need the iPhone or the iPad (or Android equivalents) along with a data plan, and in exchange for a few recreational capabilities, a few rarely used enabling applications  and some extensive learning of new (and not necessarily improved) processes to use it.

Before protesting how phone based GPS, address look up and other such applications are useful to you (and me, too), realize that the vast majority of users of these devices very rarely use these features. For every savvy user like you or me, there are hundreds of others who just need a phone or could have used the laptop they already have with equal or more often greater productivity. If you are reading this, you are likely not an average consumer user – a member of the 1% not the 99%.

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