As a software developer sometimes its very easy to lose sight of what it is we are actually trying to achieve, we become so intractably entwined around a particular piece of code or logic that we fail to see the bigger picture, we fail to see the trees for the wood. I think that its important once in a while to take a step back from our roles as software developers and ask the un-askable, does software and the UI actually matter and why; just how important is it? Obviously it can be a little difficult and skewed if we were to ask this question of the software that we write, this is why I think that it is best to use our experience as consumers to ask and judge this question.
As regular readers are probably aware I am a little bit of a petrol-head on the quiet, I love my cars and for me it was from two particular cars that the idea for this blog came about so without further ado let me introduce the contenders:-
Yep, that’s right….. BMW and Mercedes. On paper and with a level head there is really very little to separate these two respected marques, they both produce amazingly well crafted german cruisers, comfortable, quick and effortless to drive with all the drivers aids that we have come to expect in a modern vehicle. It was then with no sense of trepidation that I exchanged my much loved Mercedes for a BMW…..Like a bad first date the BMW had managed to hide all of her flaws from me on our test drive; after haggling for what seemed like forever on a price and cheekily moving the goalposts at each juncture I eventually parted with my hard earned, swapped keys, and pointed ‘my’ BMW at the M5. I shed a small tear for my trusty Mercedes as I left in a cloud of exhaust gases.
I can safely say that one year into my tenureship of said BMW it has been a less than amorous relationship, I hate the extremely imprecise immediate mpg meter which seems to indicate that at a standstill in traffic I am doing the same mpg as I would be if coasting at 70mpg down a hill with no engine force being applied, quite evidently this is incorrect as I am effectively doing 0 miles to the gallon, no if’s no buts! I hate the fact that the auto central locking will not unlock the passenger door when I stop the car and get out of the drivers door to let my passengers out, I could understand if it was a setting in the iDrive but it isnt, it just isnt! I hate the iDrive with a passion, constantly crashing and with no aesthetically pleasing attributes whatsoever. I hate the fact the car reports light failures to me seemingly randomly (despite the fact that the lights ARE all functioning) as well as reporting tyre punctures on on every third day that has a ‘y’ in the day. The only time that it has ever failed to report a puncture was ironically when my rear tyre actually got shredded!
The heating controls are just ludicrous…..My first attempt to defrost a steamy front window on the move resulted in a window so steamed I had to lean out of the window to see where I was going (I was on the motorway at the time….)
By way of comparison the Mercedes never disappointed, except for in the snow… However I have been informed that BMWs are even worse! The guys at Mercedes seem to really value the software and UI experience that you get from their cars, I can honestly say that there was never a day when I didn’t look forward to sinking into the driving seat and losing myself in a harmony of engineering excellence and feeling of peace and serenity. True, the BMW is frighteningly quick but against you get where you are going ( early ) you are muttering and swearing and cant help feel that the BMW is a one trick pony… Its like creating a piece of software that imports data REALLLY REALLY quickly but forces you to ride a knife-edge in the process.
True, not all of these faults are software, but those that aren’t I consider to be UI and as such are just as relevant to the software industry, for just like the motor car, users drive using an interface created for them. So in answer to the question ‘Does Software matter’ the answer has to be a resonating ‘Hell Yes!’, I will never buy another BMW instead I would trust my hard earned cash in the hands of those guys from Stuttgart. I think that this experience has also taught me how important it is to look at my software from the users point of view, the earlier and more often during the design process that we take into account HOW the software is going to be used the better our product will end up being.