Normally, the point of technological advancement is to make life easier, faster and more efficient. New features are supposed to streamline old tasks and automate tedious routines.
That isn't, however, always the case. Sometimes a new technology not only makes things more complex, but also frustratingly difficult and time-consuming. Be it a poor design, an unnecessary extra step, or simply a well-intentioned but poorly-placed bell and whistle, occasionally new technologies do nothing more than irritate the hell out of everyone they meet.
This week, we look at a few of those pet peeves of the technology world. Not surprisingly, this list was difficult to whittle down to ten, so there are a couple of honourable mentions.
As always, we invite users to share with us their thoughts and some of their own little electronic annoyances.
Iain Thomson: When iTunes first came out I was really impressed. Here was a media player that did a really good job, from the fade-in and out of music to an excellent cataloguing system.
But with later versions it all started to go wrong. The software got more and more clunky and intrusive, then you couldn’t download it without getting QuickTime as well.
The sharing music feature sounds very good but do you really want your co-workers to know you’ve got a few folk music CDs burnt onto your driver or that copy of Charlene’s “I’ve never been to me” that you downloaded to annoy someone with?
The latest version is even worse. The sounds like a good idea, but to use it you’ve got to give Apple your credit card number. Oh, and it’ll suggest a whole host of music you wouldn’t be seen dead downloading. Once again, Apple’s hype isn’t met by reality.
Shaun Nichols: I don't share Iain's sentiments on this one, mainly because I use the Mac version of iTunes, which is understandably better integrated with the operating system. Bundling QuickTime and Safari with iTunes for Windows was a pretty bad idea, both in terms of annoying customers and inviting legal actions. It is, after all, what got Microsoft in trouble a few years back.
I have my own thoughts on Genius, which could very well prove annoying when you have to scroll through the bad stuff you purchased in varying degrees of coherence.
9. MacOS "classic" error messages
Shaun Nichols: No major software release in the last decade was more sorely needed than MacOS X.
The sleek, ultra-stable Unix-based offspring of Steve Jobs' project replaced a Macintosh Operating System that had become badly antiquated as Apple struggled with its direction in the late 90's.
While there was no shortage of complaints about MacOS 8 and 9, most notably the lack of true multitasking and poor memory management, the thing that truly made you grit your teeth was its handling of errors and crashes.
It's bad enough when your clunky, unstable operating system crashes on you. It's even worse when you can't figure out what the heck is wrong. Rather than simply being told "the hard drive is full" or "the application ran out of memory," users were presented with "error type -34" and "error type -108" messages.
These types of reports were obviously designed to make things easier for developers and troubleshooters in the earlier days of the MacOS, but as time wore on and the system began to truly show its age and limitations, they became ever more frequent and frustrating for users to deal with.
With OS X now seven years old, the "classic" errors have long gone the way of PowerPC chips and ResEdit. Application crashes and errors still happen, but they're rarely the sort of system-crippling issue that would lead to a crash or force a restart. Even better, they're explained in plain English.
Iain Thomson: Oh Shaun, you young pup, you have no idea what it was like in the earlier days of Apple. If you think version eight was bad then the first Apple computers would have made your head explode.
Back then Apple came up with the idea of having a special graphic, dubbed ‘Sad Mac’, which popped up when your Apple didn’t feel like working, along with a string of hexadecimal numbers that disappeared before you could write them down. You can see a similar face when your iPod crashes.
To add insult to injury the computer would also play the sound of a car crash to you. You were left wondering how the computer could do all this stuff but couldn’t open the document you’d slaved on for days.
I saw a fair few of these over the years and they always made me want to put my fist through the screen, preferably followed by Steve Jobs’ face.
Iain Thomson: Bluetooth was such a good idea, a great way to get the cables off the desktop and free up clutter.
But the problem was it was too good an idea and every manufacturer wanted to make sure that they could sell you their Bluetooth devices rather than leaving it to the free market. So they started putting their own code into the software stack and before you knew it connecting a Bluetooth device was a gamble.
Then there are the headsets. In days of yore if someone was walking down the street yammering away at themselves you put them in a waistcoat with long wrap-around sleeves and house them somewhere where they couldn’t harm themselves. Now the streets are full of people having animated discussions with someone and it’s difficult to spot the oddballs.
Plus they look ridiculous. I tested the first ever Bluetooth headset and it was massive. I felt so embarrassed to be using it I hid in the testing laboratory. Things have improved but there’s still a sizable proportion of users who look like pseudo-Borg on their way to a cut-rate Star Trek convention.
Shaun Nichols: Bluetooth is especially troublesome in San Francisco, which has a surplus of both early adopters keen on trying out the latest gear and mentally-ill people who hear voices. These days, it's becoming harder and harder to tell the two apart.
I'm reminded of an old George Carlin bit about wireless headsets. We can't go into much detail here, as it is the late, great George Carlin after all. Needless to say, he had some suggestions for what people should do with their freed hands.
7. Terms and Conditions
Iain Thomson: The devil may have the best tunes, but I’m willing to bet he’s got a fairly well stocked legal department as well, turning out endlessly long terms and conditions.
You’ve all seen these things, long lists of what you can and can’t do with an application, what the company can do to you in return if you break them and probably a legal indemnity in case you get electrocuted just by pressing the power button. You may have all seen them, but have you read one, ever?
Basically the T&Cs are there to cover the backside of whoever is selling you the product in question. They are long winded, frequently incomprehensible and usually a complete waste of time.
A case in point. Bill Gates was giving an address in a US university and after he had finished a student bought up a copy of his Windows 95 CD and asked Big Bill to sign it. Gates refused, saying it wasn’t the student’s CD, it was his and then recommended the bewildered fan read the T&Cs that came with it. It turns out he was right – by some convoluted logic the student didn’t own the CD, just the software it came on.
As we’ve recently seen in the T&Cs the courts are going to have a field day when it comes to enforcing these lines of legal gibberish. It’s illegal to set up a Facebook or MySpace page under a pseudonym – try enforcing that and there’s going to be a lot of teenagers working on chain gangs.
Shaun Nichols: Almost nobody ever reads terms and conditions. As such, they are often used by companies to lock people into things they'd otherwise never want to do.
Companies such as Zango are for loading their T&C's up with consent for extra software installations, while other unsavoury groups will use the T&C fine print as permission to solicit user information.
In some cases, terms and conditions are even more than an annoyance, they can be a danger.
6. iPhone spelling correction
Shaun Nichols: I must say, the is a really, really cool device. Most of the features are completely intuitive, and the rest are learned within a matter of minutes.
There is, however, one feature that at times makes me nostalgic for the my old keypad-type clamshell Motorola. The iPhone's auto-correct feature is terrible.
I know, it's well intentioned, and with any messaging system, particularly one that uses a touchscreen keyboard, spelling correction is essential. The problem is, the iPhone uses the space bar to accept it. In other words, what you type gets auto-corrected when you move on to the next word, whether you wanted to change it or not.
Type the word "cook" only to have it changed to "cookies" when you're done, and you're not only left with an embarrassing misprint, but that Sunday dinner you're making for your diabetic grandfather just took a turn for the worse.
Auto correction is a great technology, but you'd think that Apple could at least find a better way to implement it than the space bar.
Iain Thomson: You have to say this was a bit of a gaffe on Apple’s part. Sadly this isn’t just a problem limited to the iPhone, they’ve installed it on the iPod Touch as well.
You’d think that since the device is all about touching you should be able to tap the suggested word to use it, but no, that deletes it instead. Also the words suggested aren’t even that close. Try writing ‘cream’ and it suggests ‘fee’ instead. I think they need a dictionary in Cupertino.
Top 10 annoying technologies
Sometimes a new technology not only makes things more complex, but also frustratingly difficult and time-consuming. This week, we look at a few of those pet peeves of the technology world.
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