Sometimes I just want dumb things - or: Why adding features is not always a good idea

I do not want a TV with a network interface. I do not want a DVD player with social media integration. I do not want an amplifier that supports AirPlay. I just want something that does its job. And does it right. Let me explain on the example of a DVD player why features can be harmful and are not always a good idea.

It is getting insanely hard to get dumb things - especially if you expect them to do their job.

Try to buy a TV that is just a big screen. No social media integration, not network connection, nothing. Some input ports. Displaying something from whatever you connect to them. Nothing else.

Try to buy a BluRay player that is just playing those little discs. My significant other still likes ancient technology - remember what those things are supposed to do? Play the content on the disc you put in. Nothing else.

But what do you get when you buy this stuff today? Most TVs start to offer 3D. Of course, you do not have to use it. You do not have to wear those silly glasses and hope that you have never $amountOfGlasses + 1 persons in your living room who want to watch a movie on your awesome 3D screen. You also do not have to connect it to the Internet. Remember when people complained that their TV was sending information to the manufacturer? I am still not sure if they ever thought about why a stupid display, displaying things (likely) over an HDMI cable needs a network connection.

But this is something I do not care that much about. Of course, I pay for features I do not want and do not want to use. That is just how it is. New features are developed, companies need to release something new and shiny so people buy more or newer stuff and they need to try to offer something different, something competitors do not have.

This is fine, but there was the point when it was too much for me.

As I already mentioned my significant other still likes DVDs. As a present I bought her a BluRay player. She already owned some BluRays but no player so far. I did some research and decided to get a Samsung. Reviews suggested it is playing everything you want and is not too loud. When we set it up I noticed that it supports YouTube, Twitter and other services. I did not really care. There is no network connection and as long as it plays the disc we insert everything is fine.

While watching a movie we wanted to pause for a short moment, hit the wrong key and a Twitter popup appeared. Here is the cool thing: the whole DVD player crashed. The UI did not respond anymore. You could do nothing put pull the power cord. Great, isn't it? But you know what was not so easy compared to crashing it? Getting it to continue playing the scene where we stopped watching.

More and more features are put in devices who have absolutely no benefit of having them. Can I sync my DVD with a friends one so we can watch the movie parallel if we cannot meet for a movie night? No. But can I tweet about it while watching it? Well, maybe, if the player does not crash.

If someone does not already own a device to tweet, how likely it is that a DVD player will make him or her a user or cause more tweets? Short answer: No likeliness given. My parents will never start using Twitter just because they buy a DVD who has a Twitter client integrated. We will never use the DVD player to tweet - there are smartphones, tablets and laptops doing this a lot better, the whole day, not just when watching a DVD.

There are times when I want intelligent, smart, or feature-rich stuff. I like my phone being able to send and receive mails, let me interact with Twitter, watch a short clip on YouTube, read a webpage, check my blog statistics and whatever. But I like it to be able to do this because most of the time when using it I have no other option available. If I only would sit at home I would not own a smartphone.

The sad thing is: everything is getting smarter. But this does not mean the quality of the software running on it is getting better - it just introduces more problems you have to live with. Software is not and will never be perfect, adding more and more features does not result in better and more stable software. I see the reasons why stuff is getting smarter and I am fully aware that I will be forced to buy something smart if anything I currently own breaks, but if I had the choice I'd still buy something dump again. It is just more likely to suck less.

What we should remember

And this is where I just want to add a little reminder: Whenever you start working on a feature for a project you should make sure that

  1. there is a likelihood of people using it
  2. it does not break things
  3. it makes sense to be included in the product

I know this is something we all read every other day, especially as loyal HackerNews reader for example. Define your product, look at user behavior, etc - but please remind me why I have a feed reader that lets me post a link to 20 different social media sites, to productivity tools and whatever but I cannot tell it to cache the images from web comic feeds for offline reading.

I believe everyone is aware of the three points I mentioned above, it looks like too many people just forget about them when they try to add new, cool features that will make them stand out. You know what really makes you stand out? Quality and Usability - something you do not find very often today.

>> posted on July 31, 2014, midnight in life, software engineering