When people talk about technological progress, they often seem to have the vision of a unstoppable army going forward, knowing where it goes. For me it looks a lot like a large river, unstoppable, but meandering around in unpredictable ways. One by one, objects around me are crossing the barrier that separates analog from digital. This evolution seems to follow some recurring path, where usability first degrades to improve afterwards. Here are the steps I observed.
- Analog device. The object has one purpose and just works for that purpose.
- Digital device with a clock. The first thing that you notice when a device becomes digital is that it gets a clock. The objet has a limited amount of buttons, and the clock is difficult to program, so often the device stays at the blinking
My kitchen and bathroom scales are at this level.
- Digital device with battery. A battery has been added to the device, so it can keep it state in case of power-cut, lots of feature have been added, but the device is way to complicated to configure properly, so the majority of its feature are unused. It displays winter or summer daylight saving time all year around.
My old stereo is at this level.
- Digital device with serial port. A serial port (or a hacked usb-port) has been added to the device. Hackers can now use the device for many purposes, for the available population there is no noticeable changes. The device has now more unused features.
My Casio electronic dictionary is at this level (no serial port, but proprietary USB).
- Digital device with USB port. The device has an USB port with some working protocol. It can now be used with computers relatively easily. The digital device is now much more useful than the analog equivalent. Digital cameras and MP3 players are typically at this level.
- Digital device with network connection. The device now has a network connection (Wifi or wired ethernet). The device can now be used in conjunction with other devices. Hardware is not the limiting factor, but software.
My phone, my TV, my amplifier and my gaming console have reached that level.
Note that I’m not convinced there is a strict causation between certain feature and usability, more of a correlation.