The Best Consumer Technology Typically Goes Without Notice

TechnologyOur minds work in a funny way. You might think that the best technology out there is the technology that you take notice of the most. In fact, some of the best consumer technology out there goes unnoticed by the vast majority of the people who use it.

Think about the best-selling devices currently on the market. The iPhone, Nexus 7, and the Xbox are just a few examples of devices that make it easy to forget what you’re doing and concentrate on the content you’re consuming. You don’t notice the thousands of lines of code that went into iOS or Android, but they’re there ticking away and making sure that your device does exactly what it needs to do in order to make your life easier.

It isn’t until a call drops or an app crashes that we seem to notice our smartphones. The technology that went into them is largely invisible, and that’s a very good thing for consumers. Frankly, most people don’t care to know how their phone works. They just want something that they can easily remember how to use and utilize the way it was intended. They want immediate access to their apps, and anything beyond tapping an icon or swiping their finger across the screen to do so draws attention away from the experience.

I realize that many of our readers enjoy knowing how things work. I’d imagine that quite a few of you have compiled code in the past or, at the very least, viewed the source on a website they found interesting. Unfortunately, this isn’t the average user. I know, it might sound strange, but most folks out there don’t really want to know how much effort went into making app folders possible on their Nexus 7. They just want to know that it works and does what it needs to do when they need it done.

It should be fairly obvious that consumer review sites are usually filled with reviews by people who have experienced their purchases in a way that doesn’t fall in line with the expected usage model. Negative reports are common as people rarely actually make a point to leave a review on a product they’re happy with. When’s the last time you wrote a positive review on a third-party site about the toothbrush you’ve been using for several years? Do you feel particularly inclined to seek out consumer review sites to leave positive feedback for a product that does exactly what it’s expected to do? If what you used before wasn’t good, then absolutely. The technology isn’t invisible to you anymore because you had to go through the experience of dealing with it when it didn’t work as expected.

A user should not be required to learn how things work in order to have a positive experience.

Out of the hundred or so debates I’ve had with self-proclaimed Linux evangelists that believe everyone should just use Linux when they encounter problems with OS X or Windows, I’ve yet to be convinced that my mother should have to learn how to compile code or work around a driver issue in order to have a “better” user experience. It doesn’t work like that. Linux is great, but for right now it’s still being targeted to a very specific market of users. That market doesn’t include the average consumer, yet. Ubuntu and Linux Mint are getting very close to being seamless in terms of user experience, and that’s the very point.

The best consumer technology out there is completely invisible to the consumer. When someone starts up their PC, they have a specific task in mind they’d like to accomplish. Anything that distracts from that task, be it surfing the Web or watching a movie, hinders the user experience. I don’t want to notice lag between applications. I don’t personally want to see or even be reminded that the code exists while I’m playing a game on a device. I just want to see what I sat down to see so that I can have a better experience.

It’s easy to forget just how important the invisibility of technology is to the average user when the focus is on seeing the nuts and bolts behind the machine. Before you chastise someone for enjoying iOS or Android, consider their expectations as a user and how the experience offered by each of these solutions might weigh in to these needs. Expectations are everything, and meeting the user’s expectations makes all the difference in the world.

“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”
— Authur C. Clarke

I believe firmly that the best technology for consumers can be found in products that allow them to immerse themselves in whatever it is they’re doing without being constantly reminded of what they’re using to have the experience. A lot can be said about the success of the modern smartphone that strips away everything but the screen. This puts the user directly into the experience of the software.

Do you agree? Do you disagree? Leave a comment below and let us know why. Should consumer technology remain largely invisible to the user? Why is (or isn’t) this important?

Image: Acid Pix

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