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good idea bad implementation crosstalk

Sometimes there’s a bad implementation of a good idea, which typically results in discussions turning into shouting matches between people who see only the bad implementation and people who see only the good idea. And sometimes seems more like always when it comes to smart devices, or the internet of things, aka ioshit.

Consider the not so humble smart meat thermometer. The humble meat thermometer is a metal stick with numbers on one end that you stab into the roast after opening the oven door, all while trying not to melt your face. I have a slightly fancier electronic version with a longer lead, such that I can leave it plugged into the roast and close the door, and it beeps when the desired temperature is reached. The interface is rather cumbersome, though, consisting of three buttons and a seven segment LCD, requiring some press, hold, charge, release street fighter moves to switch modes and enter the target temperature. Could it be smarter?

A bluetooth enabled smart thermometer I could monitor from my phone might be kinda nice. I could monitor progress from outside the kitchen, even. Switching between 325 and 425 degrees, for that really well done finish, would require fewer than two dozen button presses. A good idea?

On the other hand, a smart thermometer which can only be controlled via a cloud portal connected to a facebook account seems like a rather bad implementation of that idea. It will receive a certain amount of scorn, as will anyone who suggests it could be in any way useful.

Unfortunately products like the latter seem quite common. Most things in my house are still rather dumb because regrettably few products are actually the same thing, but smarter. Instead smart devices are inevitably some inscrutable machine intelligence physically manifested in my house. So no thanks. Battle lines drawn, everybody pick a side, good idea or bad implementation, and fight!

I don’t actually have strong opinions about technologically advanced meat thermometers, and haven’t used mine in just about forever, but it seemed like a pleasingly divisive example. More generally, smart phones seem well suited to serve as universal controls for myriad devices that default to much more limited interfaces. Large, high quality screens, accurate and responsive inputs. I wouldn’t want to pay an extra $200 per gadget to equip everything with a similar controller, but I’d sure like to use the controller I already own.

This crosstalk is similar to that of the XY problem, where now we have a YX solution. Detractors focus only on how it works, ignoring what it tries to address, while advocates gloss over the obvious faults imagining that maybe it could be different, even if it’s not. Very little communication actually takes place when shouting at two different frequencies.

I can only speculate as to the causes, but I imagine one likely suspect is that only bold features catch the attention of someone high enough up in management to get approval. Or there’s a topdown push to win at bingo. We need facebook integration so that you can like a recipe and have it automatically program the thermometer. Then we’ll pay some food influencers to add Meatrometer9000 badges to their site and sales will go through the roof.

Allowing the user to control the noise cancelling profile on a pair of wireless headphones with a phone app instead of further cluttering the headphones themselves is a good idea. Requiring the user to first agree to freshly updated terms of service which cannot be downloaded while the phone is in airplane mode is a bad implementation. I don’t why Sony does that.

(Note to editor: reorder these paragraphs more sensibly.)

Sometimes this phenomenon even seeps into software development where somebody will solve a problem, but uses the wrong solution, and we hate it.

Posted 27 May 2020 07:47 by tedu Updated: 30 May 2020 03:41
Tagged: software thoughts