Old 2.0: interfaces and use cases

I have donated my iPad to my parents. Before I did this I set the device up with an email and a Skype account. The iPad is thought to be a better computing device for older people. Also the touch interface deals with the disconnect between associating physical actions and what happens on screen (think about mouse movements and cursor on screen).

The app store and the relatively ‘dumb’ nature of a tablet are handy security precautions for my parents.
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I started to take my Dad through using the iPad, the experience changed my idea of what is intuitive and easy-to-use. My Dad isn’t a complete neophyte when it comes to touch screens as he has used stand alone sat nav devicess and retail kiosks before, but the process wasn’t nearly as smooth as I thought it would be and it caused me to re-analyse the process of how I had gotten everything to work.

The picture above is one of several quick scribbles my Dad did to try and capture using Skype and Mail.app for the iPad.

I hadn’t thought about it before but there were a number of clicks to make anything happen. The visual queues of fading or shading non functioning parts of the screen didn’t get picked by my Dad until I explained it.

In fact, the only bit that he found to be relatively straight forward was the keyboard which was apparently similar to the one on his TomTom device. Probably the most damning content on tablet design he made was he would sooner use Freeview’s EPG (electronic programme guide) than use the tvguide.co.uk iPad application.

Whilst I was at home, my parents took advantage of my computer literacy and decided to check out Irelandxo.com: which is a mix of Friends Reunited and a tourism site. Rural parishes manage their own communities and provide help to ex-pats looking to get back in touch with their roots. The local area where my Mum is from are organising a grant reunion for next summer.

They were leafing through the old photos of the parish where my Mum grew up on the site and there was old photo of a woman standing in front of a dresser (or glass case as my Dad sometimes calls it). Behind her were the usual collections of plates, tea pots and an alarm clock. My Mum was immediately able to put a rough date on the picture because of when people put the alarm clock in the glass case.

The use case for the alarm clock was as the central point of time keeping in the house. It was kept behind the glass as it was a reasonably expensive item and because farmers were relatively illiquid in terms of money. They could afford the clock and were generally better off than those in employment, but their resources were tied up in non-cash assets.  It would be periodically reset based on the time as broadcast on the radio.

I was curious as to why it was an alarm clock, given that my Mum initially said the alarm was never set, and if you wanted to see the time, you got up and looked at the clock. Essentially there were two time scenarios:

  1. Pretty much most days were everything was more governed by daylight and the weather. Linear time at the micro level of minutes didn’t matter that much. My uncle who lives on the family farm, still uses the sun and the shadows to give him an idea of time, only wearing his wristwatch when going out to town. Despite this general inaccuracy, children still seemed to get to school on time and the family would still get to the Sunday service
  2. Fair days. In market towns on certain days fairs would be held. If the farmer wanted to convert lifestock, eggs or other produce into money, they would have to get up early to ensure that they had a good pitch or had their animals ready for auction. Then an alarm clock would be used

All of this paints a very different relationship with time to what I have; where my work day is divided into 15 minute blocks which I have kept track of for the past 12 years using a PDA (personal digital assistant) or a smartphone; prior to that I used a Filofax.  Now I feel a bit anxious without a wristwatch or mobile phone to tell the time. However due to the nature of my work, the seasons matter much less beyond bank and public holidays.