Features Over Functionality
By Samuel Greengard
A new PwC study found that only half of all software features are widely used. This essentially means one of two things: vendors are attempting to pack too many features into the software or they aren't designing the software effectively. While it's easy to understand the desire to be everything to everybody—even if this approach is usually misguided and destined for failure—it's difficult to understand why today's software isn't more adaptive.
Why can't applications figure out over time which features we use, which we don't use and how we use various features? Remarkably, most applications are about as rigid as a piece of steel. Microsoft Word? A byzantine array of ever-present menu items and buttons—even if I never use them. Acrobat? A trip down the proverbial rabbit hole. I don't have a clue how to do things I want to do despite countless menus.
Machine interfaces—from household appliances to navigation systems in vehicles—aren't any better. I have no idea how to defrost a bagel in my microwave oven. That's because there's no setting for bread and, even if one existed, I would have to guess the weight. Why can't designers provide more popcorn- type buttons or, better yet, build an app that connects the microwave with a smartphone and makes it the controller? I select "one," "bagel" and "defrost," and the built-in sensor does the rest.
You get the idea. Most software and interfaces fail miserably. The reason Apple has amassed a fortune selling iPads and iPhones is that the devices work intuitively and effortlessly. I've watched a three-year-old child in a remote Chinese village pick up an iPhone for the first time and scroll through photos. I've seen an 86-year-old great grandmother pick up an iPad and use FaceTime video chat without any instruction.
CIOs should take note. There are a couple of lessons here for anyone designing systems or rolling out IT projects. For one, software needs to be smarter and function in a more dynamic way. For another, employees, customers and others need to be treated more like 3-year-olds and 80-year-olds. When you reduce the clutter and the visual noise, it saves everyone time and money.