Thursday, April 17, 2008

IPhone nudging embedded design toward standard

Standardizing around the iPhone ...

"The trend toward standardized platforms for development of embedded systems is almost certain to accelerate, according to a panel of engineers who study consumer behavior. Many of the reasons for their conclusion are embodied in the most influential consumer device of the past year: Apple's iPhone.

Jason Smart, director of interaction design at Smart Design, referred to the iPhone as the epitome of "user-centered design," echoing the words of moderator Patrick Mannion, editor-in-chief of Tech Online, who called the iPhone "a feat of software design and consumer enablement."

David Carey, who heads the "de-engineering" firm Portelligent, praised the iPhone poetically as a "glass cockpit" whose most significant feature was "almost dispensing fully with the keyboard" and directing the user toward the device's touch-activated screen. The success of iPhone is influencing engineers to reconsider the way consumers use electronic devices, Carey said.

In turn, this reconsideration has shifted design emphasis away from hardware embedded in a device and toward software that enables applications and defines the user interface.

Carey said that when his company reviews a device, an initial step involves taking it home for "the wife and kids to test." He wants to see if the user interface allows his relatively non-technical family to engage with it immediately, without resorting to the user manual. He said the failure rate in this test is "abysmal." Nine of ten devices tend to pose "some significant wall to usability."

Elaborating on the "usability wall," Robert Day, vice president of marketing at LinuxWorks Inc., cited the VCR as a classic "wife-and-kids test" failure. Few people, he said, ever learned to program or even set the time on their VCR. The antidote to the VCR, however, is TiVo, said Day, which can be operated by children and "non-engineering folks within minutes."

"It's a huge success and it's all software. It's an open-standard platform, it's reliable and it has a good user interface."

As further example of using standard software to simplify an embedded system for consumer ease-of-use, offered by John Graff, vice president of marketing and customer operations at National Instruments, were robotic toys designed for Lego. When developing an interface that children must understand, "less is more," said Graff."    (Continued via EETimes, David Benjamin)    [Usability Resources]

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