Design fiascos!

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macbook

While I’ve been a loyal Apple customer since 1980 and I must have spent tens of thousands of dollars personally and in my companies on their equipment, software and services I’ve got a gripe about Apple. They seem to be sacrificing functionality and usability for appearance.

I no longer own a laptop. I write all my blog posts at home with my nice 27″ screen iMac. It’s several years old but very serviceable. Unfortunately that doesn’t seem to be the case with the latest MacBook and MacBook Pros. According to Mashable, a class action suit was filed on Friday against Apple over their defective keyboards. The plaintiffs complain that the new “butterfly” keyboards fail often – twice as often as older models and are very expensive to replace. The reason, as I understand it, is that Apple went with the butterfly keyboard because it allowed the notebooks to be thinner. I get it, Tim Cook subscribes to that saying, You can’t be too rich or too  thin. Adding insult to injury to accommodate the thinner form factor the keys have less travelTravel is the distance the key goes from its normal position to being fully depressed. Touch typists like me demand sufficient travel from Apple – and they normally comply, as with the very nice wireless keyboard I’m typing on now.  I guess I won’t be buying an Apple laptop any time soon.

But at least no one has died from using a defective keyboard! Today’s story in The New York Times got my normally high pressure blood boiling. Deadly Convenience: Keyless Cars and Their Carbon Monoxide Toll. As usual The Times sub-title tells you all you need to know: 

Weaned from using a key, drivers have left cars running in garages, spewing exhaust into homes. Despite years of deaths, regulatory action has lagged.Without having to turn and remove a key to shut off the motor, drivers can be lulled into mistakenly thinking that the car has stopped running. 

Have these car designers never used a financial site on the web, like their bank or PayPal? Software designers have a best practice for sites or apps that have sensitive information: it’s called the timeout function. The concept is quite simple as is the execution: the app monitors keyboard and mouse activity. After some set period, usually about 5 minutes of no activity, the app logs you out. So if you are using a computer in a public place, for example, and forget to log yourself out the program will do it for you. Last night I even got logged out of a site that sells CDs because I’d been inactive for about 10 minutes. Bravo to them!

So why can’t car designers emulate this very important function in cars without keys, that drivers use wireless key fobs and a push button to start the car.? You can read the whole article to learn about the villains in this tragedy which has cost the lives of many people and the quality of life and brain power of many others. I’ve got one of those cars and my engine is so quiet that I’ve gotten out of the car without shutting it off, especially if I’m in a noisy area and I don’t hear the warning beep when I exit the vehicle without pressing the button that both shuts off the engine as well as starts it. Fortunately for me, I don’t have a garage or I might be one of those victims The Times writes about, who drove their car into their attached garage and left the engine running, and running and running until well after the carbon monoxide killed the occupants of the house.

One startup I’ve often thought of but have never pursued would be a non-profit that tracked, recorded, and broadcast best practices across industries and non-profits like hospitals. Clearly the software development best practice of automatically logging users out of their program after a set period of inactivity absolutely must be emulated by car manufacturers. Caution, reading this article may get your blood pressure well above normal!

Author: Mentorphile

Mentor, coach, and advisor to entrepreneurs, small businesses, and non-profit organizations. General manager with significant experience in both for-profit and non-profit organizations. Focus on media and information. On founding team of four venture-backed companies. Currently Chairman of Popsleuth, Inc., maker of the Endorfyn app for keeping fans updated on new stuff from their favorite artists.

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