Delivering an experience

Companies need to focus on the user experience their kit delivers in order to hit a chord with customers says senior technical editor Jason Saundalkar.

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By  Jason Saundalkar Published  July 29, 2008

If there’s one thing we as consumers have, it’s choice. Regardless of whether you want a new motherboard, LCD TV or even a laptop, there are numerous products to choose from.

Choice is a good thing for consumers because we aren’t forced to buy something purely because it’s the only one available. This presents a challenge for companies however because they have to work extra hard to ensure their products, rather than their competitors, fly off the shelves.

Firms generally spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on making their products the best they can be in terms of design, technical specifications, quality etc so they appeal to us. However, it’s just as important for these firms to focus on the experience offered by their products, as this is what will really distinguish their kit from others.

I’ve been testing various consumer electronic products for over five years now and the products that really impress me are the ones that provide sublime usability. The interesting thing is I’ve found the products that offer the best experience don’t necessarily have the best specs or are the most technically sound in terms of what they comprise. They just work and are a delight to interact with.

A number of products and technologies I’ve been trying in recent months have rammed home just how important the user experience is because it’s this that ultimately determines how satisfied (or not) you are. And, the more satisfied you are, the more you’re inclined to praise the product or technology when your family and friends ask for your opinion.

One technology that really falls down when it comes to delivering a quality user experience is multi-GPU technology. One paper this graphics technology sounds brilliant; take two, three or even four alike graphics cards and combine them to send gaming framerates through the roof. On occasion it does work and deliver killer framerates but in most cases, the user experience delivered by AMD’s CrossFireX and nVidia’s SLI technology is far from smooth. On more than a few occasions I’ve noticed marginal performance improvements and, at times, the dual and quad GPU setups returned results that were lower than what a single card managed.

On top of this, multi-GPU is far from stable; I experienced random crashes, reboots and noticed a few graphics glitches here and there and I’m not alone, I’ve got friends who’ve invested in these setups who complain about the exact same thing. The really sad thing is that this technology doesn’t come cheap, so it really is like pouring salt into an open wound because despite taking the trouble to hunt out a compatible set of components and forking out wads of cash for it, it just doesn’t deliver an experience that you can live with, let alone praise.

Another product I’ve got a bugbear with, in terms of its user experience, is Microsoft’s latest operating system (OS), Vista. Compared to its predecessor (Windows XP), Vista offers better security features, improved memory management, an interface that looks fantastic and more but yet it pales in comparison to its older cousin in terms of the experience it delivers.

You see I find using Vista a nightmare that involves dealing with a sometimes very sluggish graphics user interface (GUI), reduced app and game performance and iffy compatibility with older software. Given that Vista demands high specification hardware, the issues I just mentioned completely ruin the user experience.

On the other side of the table, Apple with its various products and operating systems are perhaps the best example of products that deliver an excellent user experience. The notebooks, desktops, iPods and even the iPhones aren’t made of advanced technology that no one else has access to. No, these products fly off the shelves and have such hardcore consumer following simply because they are a joy to use. The user experience they deliver is smooth as butter and I can wholeheartedly understand why people are such loyal fans of this company’s products.

I really hope that more and more companies follow Apple’s lead and focus on the user experience, as this will enrich their products, which is good for them and good for us as consumers.

Jason Saundalkar is the senior technical editor of Windows Middle East English.

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