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July 14, 2008

User Interface Decline

User interfaces always seem kind of poor and never seem to improve. The usual answers seem approximately correct. I know that when I develop an application interface that it tends to be just pieced together with what is required and I'm not given the information about how it will be used to make it much better.

TiVo was one that stood out with an excellent interface. I say was on purpose, the version 4.x TiVo software I used on my first TiVo was excellent. Rock solid, predictable, timely, obvious and simple, yet it had powerful shortcuts built in that were great time savers. As they've been adding features to the software, now up to 9.x, they've introduced bugs, lag, complexity and disorganization. For example, nearly the entire interface is now rendered dynamically, slow enough that menus and options change as you are viewing them and if you get too far ahead of the unit, it will accept your input and then ignore it, assuming it was invalid since the display update had not finished. The end result, it doesn't feel solid anymore, stuff doesn't always work, or works strangely. It's no longer predictable either as menus, recorded shows and options change from underneath you as you are looking at it. And it's certainly not timely, simple options, once instant, now take seconds, more complex ones that seemed instant now take several minutes with no obvious sign they are even working. Obvious went out the window too as I have a hard time finding some options that are scattered all over the place and disorganized. The shortcuts, well, many of them have been removed. It sucks to be frustrated at such a great device that was once so much better.

On the other hand, the Xbox 360 interface has always been bad. Navigation is unusual and not intuitive, the selected item is not always highlighted in an obvious manor and the labels aren't obvious. Moving backwards out of hierarchal menus drops you into different locations than where you came from, annoying, unpredictable and counterproductive. Dynamically generated lists take forever to populate, have to repopulate every time you look at them and even though they are listed alphabetically they appear to populate by time stamp instead, which means you need to wait
for the entire list to load each and every time you look at it. Mandatory software updates happen without notice or information and often make changes to the interface that just make it more confusing. Games for the platform have no common user interface thread either, they use different buttons for the typical enter and exit actions for example. Many of the games are riddled with splash screens, movies, animations and advertising that just can't be skipped and can really detract from game play and enjoyability.

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