As technology progresses, it seems like the designers who use it in new products are working in the opposite direction. We now have more and more household appliances that are a right nightmare to use, and many that are just plain broken from the start. And I'm not talking about the cheapest appliances, I'm talking about the general standard of appliances being sold. Manufacturers just don't seem to have any pride about their work anymore.
This seems to have happened since the advent of the personal computer (they got away with flogging off crap products and making you pay to attempt to improve them up to the condition that they should have been sold in the first place, now every company seems to think that they should, too). It's a shame that they aren't held accountable like car manufacturers are (if they make something duff, they've got to fix what you've already bought off them, at their expense, as it should be—you didn't buy into an experiment, you purchased a product that should to do everything that it's supposed to do).
Quite frankly I'm sick of being a combination of a cash cow and a guinea pig for manufacturers. This page outlines just a few of the crap technologies that we're needlessly inflicted with (needlessly in that they can work properly, if manufacturers build them properly—it's not an impossible task).
It seems that just about everything is permanently using power when plugged into the mains. An “off switch” no-longer turns it off, it just disables some of the appliance.
By the time you've got a television set, radio, video recorder, DVD player, computer, and several alarm clocks plugged in at a house, it's the same as having a couple of hundred Watt light globes burning twenty-four hours a day. It's no wonder that we have more and more people unable to pay their power bills, when they've got appliances using power when they're not even being used.
But if you decide to turn things off at the wall (quite an inconvenience, as they're usually behind things, and not where you can easily reach them), you're struck by radios that lose their station memories, television sets that lose settings and turn on far too loud onto a disused channel (blaring a few watts of static at you), video recorders that flash at you and require five minutes of setting up before you can do any timer recordings. Then, to top that off, you've got appliances that will even stuff up if the mains glitches while they're switched off, so you have to unplug and replug them, to reset them, before you can use them again (anything involving digital logic circuitry anywhere inside them—computers, video recorders, etc.).
Appliances should be designed so that there's a real “off switch” on them, and for it to be on the front panel. Devices using digital memory should retain their settings when powered off. Devices that only go into “stand-by,” rather than completely power down when you turn them off, should use as little power as necessary while in stand-by mode, and properly reset themselves when you turn them back on again.
In the past, you could control everything that you need to (to use a device), on the device itself, and the remove added a few convenience factors to using the device. Now, there's few controls on the device, they're mostly all on the remote, and some of the crucial controls are only on the remote. If it dies, and they do, the device becomes useless.
Batteries used to last for several years, and the remote would work over long distance, and didn't need to be aimed like a gun at the machine being controlled. Now they last a few months, the remote doesn't work well if you're more than a couple of metres away, and you have to aim precisely at the remote sensor on the device.
Appliances should be fully controllable by the front panel, shouldn't need a remote control with a gazillion buttons, nor have buttons that do several different operations depending on when they're pressed. The remote control should just work, it shouldn't require you to get up and do gymnastics trying to get the appliance to receive the signal.
I'm sick of being forced to sit through umpteen notices, logos, and prolonged menu sequences, before I can even choose to watch a film. You can't skip through most of them, and if you stop the disc, you've got to sit through them all again. I've used discs that take two minutes before you can watch the actual film, it takes longer to watch them than wait for a valve radio set to warm up. Between the delays and menus, they've turned watching a movie into the frustrating equivelent of trying to follow the crap instructions for putting a stereo system together.
They're not high definition. Most are just about equal to the poor definition of the average bog-grade television set. Watch one on a high definition, or large screen set, and you soon notice just how bad they are. With grotty MPEG artifects, partly due to the way MPEG works to compress video data, and partly due to it being used poorly during disc mastering.
And there's other annoyances, such as: Layer changes in really bad places, so you get glitches in the middle of music or dialogue. Discs that aren't compatible with some players, particularly self-recorded ones (not pirated movies, your own home DVDs made on DVD recorders). Not to mention world zoning that precludes many people from legally purchasing some movies, and that Macrovision crap that makes watching movies on many television sets an annoying flickery experience. And then there's the boxes: Despite being around for about 20 years, they haven't managed to devise a design for a compact disc box that doesn't break within a few uses of it, and DVDs box manufacturers haven't improved the situation—they're good at breaking discs, with the hub in the box biting into the centre of the disc, fracturing it.
They're all little issues, but together they amount to a lot of annoyances. Annoyances that could be completely avoided if manufacturers put a little bit more thought into the design of what they're building.
For years, the push in Hi-Fi was to be more Hi-Fi than before (better quality, and more faithful to the original). Since the advent of the compact disc player manufactures have gone in the opposite direction: Trying to reduce the quality to the minimum that they could, before it becomes obvious that the quality is poor, as done by all of these technologies: digital radio and television, compact discs, DVDs, MPEG sound and video encoding, etc. Notice how it's all digital signal technologies that have worsened signal quality. By now, technology should be improving on past performance.
Playing a DVD should be more like compact disc players: They're the same the world over, there's no regions. When you put a disc in you get a very quick scan to see what's on the disc (NB: only crap players take a long time to read the table of contents and skip to specific tracks), and it waits for you to push a button—then it plays what you want to hear. It doesn't subject you to two minutes of wading through warnings and menus, and doesn't immediately start playing music at you. I'm quite capable of putting a disc in and pressing “play” to start it, or pressing something else if I didn't want to hear the first track (as is often the case). They've all got “play” and “menu” buttons, let me press one and have it do what it's supposed to do, straight away (play the film, or open the menu), don't make me sit through two minutes of annoying crap when all I want to do is watch the movie.
I'd been using computers for years before Windows, or even DOS got its foot in the door. Back then computers were simpler, and a lot more reliable. Then came the mindset of throwing everything and the kitchen sink into them, but without due thought about what was being done. When I finally started to play with Microsoft's attempts at operating systems I was appalled at how crap they were (and still are, in many ways). For example:
Ill-conceived attempts at multi-tasking were inflicted upon us, ignoring everything that was learnt about how to do it right over thirty-odd years of doing multitasking before personal computers existed.
Dialogue boxes that pop up while you're typing, stealing whatever you typed, and ruining two things in the process: What you were typing, and you've suddenly authorised something asking for your permission without knowing what it was.
Continuing to produce hardware, software, and data, that's not compatible with other things, including itself (other things on the same computer, later versions of itself, etc.).
Systems that really need an uninterruptible power supply being sold to the general public which don't use them. Yes, it's possible to design personal computers which can be simply switched off, without a need for a shutdown sequence, when you want to turn them off. I've used them.
The amount of crap I've gone through where Windows has accused me of doing this or that (e.g. you haven't shut down properly), when it's done it itself (it locked up while shutting down, or has stupidly held device configuration files in read/write mode, instead of read-only mode, and has screwed them up). It's Windows which has corrupted its own settings, all by itself—I don't write the settings files, it does. I've never, not once, had something destroy its own setting files on a non-Windows personal computer.
Install routines that ignore your instructions and stomp all over how you've got your system set up.
Installation packages that you can't inspect before installing (to work out if they contain crap, or to work out what they're going to put where in case it messes up your existing software).
Things that won't uninstall, or won't completely uninstall.
That damn registry, huge, bloated, full of meaningless gibberish, compared to a plain text script file, where I can see precisely what each entry does, and it's the only place for the system to run things at start up (so nothing can start up without me being able to find out about it).
Similarly, stupidly named files that give you no clue as to their purpose, and poorly structured filing systems so you can't work out what belongs where, and neither can programmers (who put all sorts of crap in places that they should never touch).
Applications that needlessly run all of the time, dragging your computer to its knees, and making it impossible to determine what's supposed to be running, and what's extra garbage that's infiltrated your system (e.g. spyware and other scum). On other systems, only the programs that you're actually using are running at any particular moment. You can always start what else you need when you need it, and if it's not designed with the kitchen sink mentality, they don't take an age to start up.
The last six points are some of the main reasons that systems become infected with crap from the internet, and for it being very hard to remove. I truly hate fixing up other people's computers, because it's such a chore to work out what part of the mess should be removed (the whole thing is a mess, even in it's normal state). And I can understand why so many just reformat and start over, but it's a terribly crap way to manage a computer.
Even though I, now, have a mobile phone, I find them a thoroughly annoying technology. People ask you to ring their mobile phone, but they keep it turned off, never take it with them, are forever in spots with no reception, have batteries that only last for a minute, and they keep changing their number without ever letting anyone know nor listing their number in directory services. And they use their phones in places that they shouldn't (cinemas, churches, and answering them in the middle of a conversation with the people around them, etc.), with really annoying loud ring tones that sound like singing mosquitoes.
I don't consider them safe. People use them in unsafe conditions (e.g. while driving, or even while crossing the road, on foot, without paying attention to what's going on around them). The balance of probabilities points towards their emissions being hazardous to your health (the same as several other electro-magnetic radiations). And they certainly cause interference to other electronic appliances around them.
They're supposed to be a phone, but come loaded with masses of extra features, often useless or annoying, though sometimes useful but not reliable or easy to use. Many of the useful-sounding features don't work because your network doesn't support it, or they only work on some models, but your model has half of it implemented (it's in the menus, but doesn't work), or only work between some models of phones (your mates must have the same model as you). If you'd known that when you were choosing a model, you'd have picked the simplest, cheapest, model.
The phone companies have a plethora of slightly different plans, all costing you an arm and leg to use the phone (they really should be cheaper than a fixed line, as they haven't had to put in thousands of kilometres of wiring through every street). And most of the plans still cost you an arm when you're not making calls. People are mugs about the deals offered to them, where if you spend this much per month, they'll give you so many free calls or messages. So they use all of these “credits” because they've paid for them. But if they'd thought more about it they'd have picked a cheaper plan, and not made all those extra calls in the first place.