Frustration-free Technology for the Real World

By Tricina Elliker

The promise of technology has always been convenience, accessibility, and better communication. Future innovation has a history of making big promises about seamlessly integrating into consumers’ lives in order to increase leisure and luxury, but the actual day-to-day experience of using new tech tools often falls a bit short.

Apps crash, point of sale systems freeze, laptops update software at the absolute wrong moment. It’s a reality we’re all used to at this point. But why? We spend so much of our money and our energy using hardware and software that so often it still manages to be full of problems.

So why do we still find ourselves putting up with buggy, laggy tech?

Frustration has always been tech’s normal

Part of the answer is simply that it is not that simple. The way technology is built and put into the world makes the answer more complicated.

Technology has always progressed with trial-and-error, but our patience with tools that cause us much grief as they solve—is running thin.

Rapid innovations have brought us to a present-day future packed with amazing new technological advancements, and our awe and excitement at all these new tools was enough to push through bad UX and buggy software for a time. But it’s time to level up and bring in an era of technology that actually works the way it’s supposed to.

The original inventor of the notoriously frustrating self-checkout machines that stand in nearly every super market today says he can’t stand the beasts he helped create. The idea behind a self-checkout machine is obviously valuable, they could save time and employee hours, saving retailers money. But in execution they’re not-intuitive to use and much too easily confused, casting doubt as to how much time and effort they actually save. In short, consumers hate them.

The self-checkout machine is a clever idea ruined by poor execution. For decades now, innovation has spread technology into every nook and cranny of our lives, promising to make life better. It’s not that the creators behind these products weren’t thinking ahead, it’s that more is not better, less is.

The complexity of collaboration

And sometimes it’s hard to accurately place blame. In 2011, conflict erupted between Apple and AT&T when iPhone users were experiencing dropped calls. Blame was lobbed back and forth between companies. Was it the hardware or the network?

The truth is that today’s technology is always a collaborative effort, whether you’re building software using Amazon Web Services or trying to design around Wi-Fi issues. And because no tech product lives in a vacuum, there’s no way to completely insulate yourself from these issues.

The best you can do is try to anticipate them.

At Mirror, we have to spend a considerable amount of time and effort adapting our products to the imperfect world. For instance, poor Wi-Fi can cause all kinds of issues for software trying to upload and download information. But software builders can’t control the Wi-Fi users encounter in their day-to-day lives so our Offline mode makes sure that if you are nowhere near a strong signal, no problem—the customer experience is definitely “Queen.”

Now that tech has spread to every aspect of our lives — the hardware thinner and more portable than ever, the software cloud-based and mobile-first  — the next challenge is to make technology that works seamlessly into our messy lives.

We’re already on our way

Just a few years ago, it was customary to save progress manually, but then Google made autosave a standard feature in their products.

When mobile phone networks emerged in the U.S., spotty networks and dropped calls were such a prevalent experience, Verizon created a famous ad campaign around it. “Can you hear me now?” became the obnoxiously overplayed tagline heard emanating from every television for years. Then the ad campaigns moved on.

Years later, Sprint managed to capitalize on Verizon’s own marketing tactic by poaching the actor American audiences associated with their competitor’s slogan, “Can you hear me now?”

It was meant to be a humorous ad campaign, but the truth consumers have been frustrated with tech products for a long time.

More robust offline modes, better buffering, and thoughtful UX design will likely lead the next wave of great products. 5G is certainly set to make a considerable difference, promising to eliminate our dependence on spotty Wi-Fi signals. With any luck (and some decent planning) the next decade will see more products that are intuitive and bug-free, products that can maneuver in a frustrating, imperfect world.

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