Thursday, November 25, 2010

The Worst Idea I've Heard of This Year

I've seen some dumb apps, but replacing rarely-used, possibly-emergency paper has got to take the cake:
"It just might be the world's first paperless car: Hyundai Motor America will include an iPad - loaded with a digital version of the thick owner's manual - with the luxury sedan it plans to launch this fall..."
Read the rest of the rather short story. The story continues to say this is "aimed to tap into the hype" over iPads, but wouldn't an actually useful solution be a good idea? Now, I like PDFs, for example. I have several hundred manuals (my hobbies are technical) on my computer. But when I need to make sure I know how to use one in the dark and snow at 1am, I bring a paper copy. Many cars, and I am sure this one, have digital displays built in. Many have mobile links. Providing the manual on this screen (when stopped, or only visible to the passenger) is totally reasonable. I can think of more interesting things than scheduling service appointments, but the concept of connecting to the home office, or otherwise tying to the outside world is solid. This makes me insane, though. It looks precarious as hell, and tell me why on-screen help isn't a better solution? Or, maybe just fixing the interface so you don't need so much help. I wonder how many fatalities this will cause. (Yeah, I noticed they are such boneheads they couldn't even load up a screenshot of the app for the promo shots, either. Just pretend). I'd be fine with going so far as to just dock the hype machine to the car and using COTS hardware like an iPad as the in-car screen. But three years from now, when the car breaks down, and you are trying to figure out the fuse panel in the middle of the night, what are the chances your iPad is charged? Is even in the car? After an accident (when, yes, tow truck operators sometimes need information on how to unlock the transmission) what are the chances that the screen is not smashed? Etc. An owners manual is, apparently, perceived as an extension of the purchase process, and something every person will sit and happily read when they get home. In fact, this is a massive failure of understanding users, use cases and context. In the US, owners manuals are help lines. Referred to like you call customer care when your bill is confusing. And that doesn't exactly scream "free iPad for everyone" to me.

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