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Old 04-13-2012, 02:07 PM   #1 (permalink)
Mark Rejhon
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Default Future Shop / Best Buy Demo of PlayBook -- Major flaw losing millions of $ for RIM

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[Disclaimer: I still am a RIM shareholder; though I have profitted by selling 3/4 of the stock already before the depreciation]
[Disclaimer 2: I am also a user interface programmer; with some education in user interface design principles too]


I am shopping for tablets for the first time, as I am now developing software for varoius competing models, but I also want to also root/support our little local Canadian company called R.I.M. especially since it should eventually become easy to recompile existing Android apps for BlackBerry App World, to give maximum support for any future turnaround....

I must confess that the PlayBook is still failing an important litmus test: The Best Buy / Future Shop demo.

While I was playing with a PlayBook for 15 minutes, and the 2.0 is an improvement, I have observed several customers walk up to pick up a PlayBook and try it out, persistently trying to figure things out for at least 30 seconds, some as long as 2 minutes (which is impressive; this shows they were trying harder: most people lose interest after 30 seconds) -- and then walking away after giving up, with some obvious frustration expression on their face, or shrug, or perplexed posture..

My observation is there's a fatal flaws in the PlayBook that prevents users from doing really interesting things with the PlayBook within 30 seconds, from the perspective of walk-up customers:
-- pretend you've never tried many tablets before,
-- but you have enough intelligence to fix an alarm clock or adjust a cable PVR
-- users will try to press buttons randomly and tap screen randomly, trying to figure out what it does.
-- This includes business-suit people deciding on what to buy for their company.

The following reason is why the PlayBook fails the 30 second fiddle test - while Android and iDevices were engineered to succeed in this. iDevices do this job better than Android, but Android does a much better job than PlayBook 2.0 in impressing users. For example, the only button on an iPod/iPhone/iPad is the Home button, which instantly presents a menu of delicious-looking icons. Android has the 'house' button, which is already a familiar icon (because people have seen house buttons in web browsers, representing "Home"). There's nothing similiar to this, on a BlackBerry Playbook. The PlayBook fails the 30 second fiddle test; all 3 customers standing next to me, walked away, after clearly struggling trying to get the PlayBook back to the Home screen. One of them was even carrying a BlackBerry on their holster!!! I later witnessed the same guy fiddle other Android tablets in what seems to be less frustrated body movements, and they all successfully go to its Home screen and launch a different application within 30 seconds; something that they didn't do within a few minutes on the PlayBook standing next to me at Best Buy Big loss of revenue for RIM... (I was pretending to look at the PlayBook I was holding, while I was watching people next to me, in the tablets area of Best Buy)

One of the users put the device stuck in some kind of a handwriting-gesture macro configuration screen (whatever it was called), and got confused how to "go back". (There's no BACK button, there's no HOME button). Even I myself, got very confused about how to exit that screen on PlayBook; that device remained in that screen 1 hour later when I came back (which means it probably repelled/discouraged people for the entire time period, since nobody who walked up, could figure out how to escape that screen -- becaues there was no obvious method of escaping the screen, for tablet-inexperienced walk-up customers)

NOTE: This booth at Best Buy advertised "PlayBook 2.0 OS", so OS 2.0 was already installed on the demo units.

Although there are MANY ways for the PlayBook to fail/be imperfect, this is apparently a major sales-killer for PlayBook even with PlayBook OS 2.0. It is my conclusion, based on this (and from what I hear about other people), these shortcoming results in the loss of many millions of dollars of RIM:

1. No fancy button or icon that does something demo-ably interesting to inexperienced tablet users, such as display a home screen of fancy icons.
Problem: The PlayBook doesn't have an obvious method of going back to its home screen. People will poke at the first fancy icon or button on a device, trying to get it to do something very 'interesting' (such as display a Home screen of temptingly fancy icons)
Solution 1: A persistent on-screen button titlebar/buttonbar for existing hardware (ala Ice Cream Sandwich, software-based touchscreen buttons that stays displayed at all times in all applications -- that like the one at the bottom of Samsung Galaxy Nexus devices)
Solution 2: Redesign the hardware to have a hardware button or two that does "something interesting" such as display a menu of icons, or go to home screen, etc.

2. No easy obvious method for random walk-up customers, to figure out how to escape screens
Problem: People ended up getting the BlackBerry PlayBook stuck in specific screens that couldn't be escaped to previous screens. They abandon the PlayBook. The next customers try to randomly tap and swipe at obvious on-screen icons, trying to get the PlayBook to a different 'interesting' screen, and then walk away. Alas, one can't make a good first-impression twice... It takes somebody knowledgeable to return the PlayBook to the home screen.
Solution 1: Persistent on-screen button that resembles a familiar button (such as a BACK button or HOME button) because everyone knows about those icons; today's people have grown up on web browsers; and inexperienced tablet customers will naturally tap the first button that "makes sense to them", such as a back button or a home button.
Solution 2: Demo mode, with a timer that forces the PlayBook to its Home screen if the device is untouched for more than a certain amount of time such as 10 minutes. Remember, to pop up a dialog "Demo Mode Idle Warning: Displaying Home Screen in 15 seconds"; to prevent interrupting people who are simply slowly reading an ebook page or watching a video.

3. Unlike most other tablets, PlayBook's don't do anything interesting with random inexperienced manipulation
[i]Problem: Tapping random icons or clicking random buttons, eventually gets a PlayBook stuck in a screen that can't return to the Home screen via further random tapping/clicking. This eventually frustrates the less experienced tablet users. The first 30 seconds need to make a good impression before the user decides it's worth spending 30 hours learning how to properly use the tablet. Unfortunately, the PlayBook fails this critical 30 second "demo test", or the "fiddle test", losing many sales for RIM[i]
Solution 1: The solution of a well-designed persistent on-screen bar (whether titlebar, button bar, or icon bar), would at least guarantee that at least some random actions by inexperienced tablet customers (button press or screen tap) will easily result in the Home screen. This makes it more likely for the inexperienced Future Shop / Best Buy walk-up user to spend extra time learning how to use the tablet. BlackBerry handhelds have the advantage of already having a Back button and a Home button (endcall behaves as Home)
Solution 2: Redesigning the hardware to have one physical button that immediately resets the device to a predictable screen, such as a Home screen. iDevices have 1 button that act as Home, while Android 2.3 devices have 3 or 4 buttons; Ice Cream sandwich turns these physical buttons into persistent-onscreen bottom-of-screen buttons)

Conclusion: PlayBook (Even OS 2.0) should never have been put in Future Shop and Best Buy without first successfully passing the 30 second Demo Test (the 'Fiddle Test'). These three design mistakes alone, probably easily results in a massive loss (i.e. easily results in the loss of more than 50% of sales). Some of these people who I witnessed, were BlackBerry-carrying business-suit people; not street kids walking up to the tablet. Big wigs that buy hundreds of devices for their company. Anecdotes also seem to be consistent with my observations at Best Buy and Future Shop in repeated visits over the last several months, including most recently earlier this month.

I am dissapointed in RIM, both as a user, and as a (mostly-former) shareholder, that they failed to consider practicalities such as this, which would have been useful in getting more sales.
NOTE: This is an educated opinion; both as a shareholder AND a software developer with knowledge in user interface design.
Mark Rejhon
Author of XMPP extension XEP-0301: - specification - open source

Last edited by Mark Rejhon : 04-13-2012 at 02:19 PM.
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