There is one type of interface that could be considered the most egregious form of usability. The physical device with no interface that relies on an app on a mobile device and Wi-Fi to control it.
It’s not that there is anything wrong with the idea in principle, but people still like some form of interface on machines, they don’t want to have to rely on having to use a phone to control a device. A good example is the now defunct Juicero juicer. The US$400 machine used proprietary “produce packs”, which are basically just sachets of pre-chopped fruit and vegetables, which is then juiced via “squeezing plates” to produce cold-pressed juice. Turns out the machines themselves had elaborately designed engineering which allowed them to produce the same thing as squeezing the sachet with your hands.
The thing is there’s nothing really that elaborate about this device, it doesn’t really need an interface at all, just a power switch, and a second button to activate the sachet squeezing. Not rocket science. But the machine wouldn’t work without an app, and wi-fi – so no wi-fi, no juice. If anything can be learned from this usability goof, it’s that you should never require internet connectivity for local functionality. Like ever.
This poor example aside, I do understand why companies opt for this approach. It makes devices less expensive (theoretically), and it makes it easier to upgrade the interface on the app. The downside is that the most basic features transition from the machine to the app, so a phone is always required. I have an ANOVA Sous Vide machine, which also uses an app, via blue-tooth – but the app provides enhanced functionality, and I can still control the device without the app. The GINA coffee maker is another device that comes with a “smart” version. It allows for the use of a built-in Bluetooth scale, so the amount of coffee and water added can be controlled. This app-controlled scale has lead to somewhat of a discord from some reviewers who note that it is quite inconvenient to have to reach for a phone every time they want to make a coffee. It’s easy to add a small interface for a scale – all it really needs to show is weight, and have some ability to flip between grams and ounces.
The overall lesson to be learned here is that hardware devices should always have their own controls built in. It’s bad enough when TV manufacturers decide that the TV only needs an on/off switch, and provide no other functionality, except for a remote. I mean what’s next? A kitchen faucet which you can’t control without an app?
- Bad UX Roundup: Juicero Edition – Jason Clauss (2017)
- That’s Flawesome: Breaking Down the Juicero – (2017)
- Here’s Why Juicero’s Press is So Expensive – Bolt (2017) (a great tear-down)