Form factor pyschology v car psychology

My Keyboard One of the things that must be among the most debated on the web, and blogs in particular, is the whole debate about the right form factor.

Speaking as someone who has been around the IT industry for a while it’s interesting to see how this debate has matured and changed.

In the last few days Steve has commented on jkOnTheRun choice of the TC1100. jk’s evaluation criteria is all about screen and weight.

A little while ago the furrygoat experience defined an evaluation criteria of the basis of the WAF (Wife Acceptance Factor). It was comical, but primarily about capability.

Bill Gates created an amount of comment by introducing a smaller tablet form factor at the PDC, which I blogged about, as did Mary Jo Foley.

The interesting thing about each of these discussions is what they assume.

  • They assume that the new thing will be performant.
  • They assume that the new thing will support a rich set of capabilities including connectivity to other systems, sound, colour, etc.
  • They assume that the new thing will enable them to access their data
  • They assume that the new thing will work on the power supply available

The debate has nothing to do with the basics anymore.

This is also true of the car industry and our choice of a vehicle. But the car industry knows this at a far deeper level than the IT industry.

I’m just in the process of evaluating what my next car will be and the difference is striking.

The way that we choose a car (whether we know it or not) is to assess what we want in many different dimensions and then to choose the one which we believe gives us the greatest level of pleasure. It’s quite a conundrum, but I’m not unique in finding it difficult. There is this really interesting article from the CIA of all people where they define a mechanism for making the decision.

No-one sells a car on the basis that it will do 70 mph on a UK motorway, that’s ridiculous, I assume that. Actually, in the UK you aren’t actually allowed to sell a car on the basis of how fast it will go.

Likewise, no-one would regard air-conditioning as essential in the UK.  It’s very nice to have, but not essential. But I would be willing to pay some money for it, because I know the value.

But how much would I be willing to pay for wind-screen wipers that come on automatically. Well that’s a more subjective value judgement.

The requirements that we choose to make our judgement on are a conundrum because the number of hard requirements by which we can assess the impact by is constantly being reduced (comodotised) but the soft requirements are getting longer.

I have in front of me a Renault Scenic catalogue and the hard requirements are summarised on one page in very small print, this page is also nearly the last page in the brochure. Prior to that there are 12 pages of pictures and diagrams and descriptions regarding the soft requirements (umm, do I want satin chrome door handles or not).

Now compare that to the Dell web site about their latest Latitude X1 laptops and what’s the first thing it tells me – it can run Windows XP. Well I’m sorry but that isn’t a sell-able point – I expect that. It would be news if it didn’t. It’s a bit like saying “this car runs on Petrol” as the first thing in the car brochure. It then gets slightly better. This new Latitude is an ultra-light so they start to tell me how heavy it is and how big it is. But it’s still in technical speak that I would need to go and do some work to understand. I’m sorry but I can’t visualise 2.5 lb. What is also striking is the difference in the pictures between the two brochures. In the Renault one the car is always within context. The picture of the storage space has something in it so you can see how large it is. On the Dell web site the pictures of the new ultra-light are all in white space. It’s supposed to be small and light, so I want to be able to see how small and light it is. I’m sorry but I can’t visualise that in a white space.

The Dell web site has come a long way from the early days though, at least it is focusing on the factors which are important to the specific user. It doesn’t, for instance, even mention the available processor speeds or memory configurations on the first page. It’s an ultra-light, that’s what is important to me, I expect it to be performant.

So the industry is maturing, but it’s a long way from the car industry and that’s because the hard factors still play a part, but their role is diminishing.

It is my view that the corporate IT market has even further to go. The way that most corporate keep their IT costs down is by standardising on a small subset of devices, normally from a single supplier. And that is what corporate used to do with company supplied cars, but they normally don’t these days. They may standardise on a manufacturer, but they wouldn’t dare standardise on one or two models. This change in corporate car purchasing isn’t due to the hard factors, it’s due to the soft factors. I’m likely to opt out of my current company car scheme because I don’t like the cars from the manufacturer they have chosen. They are good cars, I just don’t like them. The same is highly likely to happen in the corporate IT market. The soft factors which people are looking for in their devices (because they will have more than one) will greatly outweigh the hard factors. As such it will become increasingly more problematic for corporate to set standards at that level. As a Solution Architect for a large IT Services organisation we already see it at the senior level. If Executive XYZ wants device ABC they will normally get it.

As the soft issues take over the number of form factors and the differences between them will continue to grow, and so will customisation.

  • Some people will use a big desktop with a big screen, because some people drive a Range Rover.
  • Some people will use a titanium plated ultra-light, because some people drive a BMW Z3.
  • Some people will utilise a standard laptop, because some people drive a Ford Mondeo.
  • Some people will use a large form factor laptop, because some people drive a Renault Grand Scenic
  • Some people will still use the device they have had for the last 10 years, because some people drive a vintage Mercedes sports car.

As well as I am able

Great CloudsMy new strap line for this blog is “as well as I am able”. This line actually has a bit of history to it.

It’s actually the Chastney family official motto and included in our coat of arms; but that is something that was only discovered by my father’s generation. Before that it was always a motto for the way that the Chastney family lived their life and was even a common saying in the family. It obviously stuck and was passed down through the generations.

We have never been people to angst about perfection, but have been comfortable in doing the best that we can. It doesn’t mean we are sloppy or anything, it just means that we try to do the best we can. If our best is good enough then that’s great, if it isn’t then fine, that’s not our problem.

The Chastney problem is often that our best is often much better than other peoples good enough.

Today is WATER day.

WaterI have decided that I should at least try to go without coffee, and definitely get away from the habit of having a coffee first thing.

So today is WATER day.

Actually feel quite invigorated today anyway. I went out for my morning walk. There is a wood near where I live and the blue-bells were out, the dew was just lifting and it was fabulous.

Coffee Release – Failure

My Coffee Mug

Well it’s time for a confession. I wrote a few weeks ago about wanting to kick the coffee habit. I even wrote about managing for two days. Anyone who actually reads this blog will have noticed that I haven’t talked about it since. Well that’s because I’ve been an out-and-out failure. If you want to form a new habit you need to work at it for something like 40 days. Clearly 2 days is nowhere near 40.

But do I try again? I haven’t decided yet.

I notice that Steve is yet again well focussed and managing to cross of his resolutions. ah well, perhaps some of us aren’t made that way (I would have linked to him, but he seems to have deleted it).

Design – from an amatuer

Above Scorton

I have updated my blog design in line with some reading I have been doing on design. it’s an interesting idea within the blog space. Is the design of the web page actually that important, on the basis that people could be reading the content in all sorts of ways, without even touching the web page.

Anyway, I have gone for a green design, with a predominant white feel to it. The green is to fit in with the ‘oak grove’ theme. The picture in the new graphic is one of mine. It was taken at Tarn Howes, so it’s a real English Oak. I’ve tried to stick to the web colours in the design so as to enable good compatibility. I’ve also removed the picture of the face in the sand because I’m not sure that it was saying much. I actually don’t have a good picture of myself, when I’ve taken one I’ll add it in I think.

Role Profiling – Does It Have Any Value?

Gause Bush

I have set myself a little challenge this week. It follows on from some discussions last week within a management meeting. And here is the question:

  • Does a role profile really make a difference to an organisation?

The background behind the question is this.

I work in an organisation that has on numerous occasions done role profiling exercises and generally failed in it. These exercises normally have numerous purposes and numerous customers. Even as an employee you want a role profile for more than one purpose; you want it to position you within a grading structure, but you also want it to tell you what you need to develop and you also want it to tell you were you are in the salary band for the role that you are doing. Each of these issues is fraught with danger. The company I work for wants to be able to position people in roles so that it can understand it’s skills base, but it doesn’t want to link that to salary because that would lead to all sorts of issues.

The company has recently undertaken it’s latest exercise and communicated a structure (badly) to each of the staff. As far as my team is concerned more than 70% of the team is sat within two bands within a single role.

So does all of this stuff actually make a difference? Do companies with a strict role profiling mechanism achieve a higher level of staff satisfaction (for instance) than do companies who have absolutely no structure at all. Do companies that point both ways have more problems than companies that are at one extreme or the other? Is the role more important the more junior you are?

From a personal perspective, I don’t think I care. But why don’t I care? In what situation would I care? I am only thinking about it at the moment because I have been told what my role profile is (I have worked for over 10 years not knowing what it was), and because I have been asked to be part of management team that looks at the issue.

So what is the value of a role profile. It definitely has a cost, but does it have a value. To be perfectly honest – I don’t know.

Suppose that means that it is time for some research. Great, I love learning something new!!!

Queueing to Vote

Feeding the GeeseI had great fun last night queueing to vote. In a highly efficient country like the UK (yes, I am being serious) we aren’t used to queueing to vote.

Yesterday evening though was a different matter, it was hilarious.

I normally vote in a morning before I go to work but this time I was away on business so the plan was to call into the local school (where the voting was taking place) on my way out to pick Jonathan up from football training.

As I wasn’t expecting to queue I hadn’t left much time before he needed picking up. Imagine my surprise when I walked in  to the school hall to find it full. There were people everywhere, and three very stressed, very red faced election officials sat at a primary school table processing people as fast as they could. But clearly not fast enough. After a couple of minutes I decided that I needed to go and get Jonathan and would call on my way back.

Having picked Jonathan up, I was now back at the school. But now it was raining and the queue was out of the door.

“Do I stay or not?” I mutter to myself, but all I could think about was all of those people in other countries who have had their first taste of elections over the last few years and I feel ashamed for even thinking the questions.

In a sense it’s a pointless exercise for me to vote because the local Conservative candidate is almost certain to get in however I vote (Nigel Evans-majority 14,000 ) but actually I see it as a civil duty. He only has a 14,000 majority because 26,000 people do vote for him, that’s 26,000 who have made a decision, it’s not a block vote of 26,000 it’s 26,000 individuals.

So I join the queue. It’s quite exciting really. They are obviously a little concerned about the possibility of a disturbance because the police turn up to make sure things are OK. As it happens one of them is the Dad of one of Emily’s friends (who is also with me). The other thing is, I got to see all sorts of local people who I haven’t seen in ages (“Hello Sarah, how are you?”). I even met a work colleague who I didn’t realise lived anywhere near me (“Hello Geoff I didn’t realise you lived around here.”) The funniest bit was the couple directly behind me. If I had been a bit more stressed myself I would have told them to ‘shut up’ but as it was it was comical. Their conversation consisted of these few phrases repeated in random ways for nearly an hour.

  • “Oh we’re moving a bit quicker now.”
  • “I’ve never had to queue to vote before.”
  • “Why is there only three of them?”
  • “I don’t think we’ll get in before 9 o’clock.” (which is when one of the ballots was supposed to close).
  • “They’re still coming in.”
  • “Look at the queue behind us.”
  • “I wonder what the police want.”

I must have heard each of these phrases about twenty times, because they weren’t ever silent, they just used another one of the phrases and they didn’t talk about something different in any one of the sixty minute we were there. It seems to me that this type of muttering is a complete waste of time and energy but some people seem to be masters at it. I think what made it more comical was that they were both quite short and had small winy voices to match. It’s 24 hours later and I can still here them.

Anyway at just past 9 o’clock I voted, and the hall was still full (“Hello Eddie how long have you been queueing”). Jonathan and Emily had gone to sit in the car, Jonathan was asleep (It’s hard work playing football) and Emily wasn’t far off (she’s normally in bed for 8). It was fortunate I didn’t leave it any later because in the end they had to turn 100 people away. And it sounds like the police were definitely on hand for that.

next time I’ll be voting in the morning (or maybe not ).