As mentioned in the previous post, we had plenty of processes around the users in terms of understanding absolutely everything and anything that we could about how they used technology, how they took notes, what they did in meetings and back at their desks, etc. Each week we would have a 2-3 hour scheduled meeting with the participants in which some set of activities would occur. Some weeks we scheduled it so that we would end up going to a meeting with the participant so that we could watch them interact with the tablet in the meeting situation and then debrief and ask them all kinds of questions about what we saw at the time. Other weeks we would have them perform a series of tests where we’d get them to write an email message (containing all sorts of common and uncommon words) or we’d have them walk us through all the notes that they’ve taken etc. But since we had these three different locations and unrestricted access to the participants we’d often times spring surprise visits to the user with the video camera in tow. These often were the most informative times since they aren’t expecting us so they haven’t “prepared” anything. Some times we’d catch them sneaking back to their old PC and feeling guilty about it. But this was exactly what we wanted to know. Why did they go back to that old PC, what was it that they needed to do that they couldn’t on the tablet? Other times we’d catch them giving a demo of the tablet to someone else and we’d listen in to see what they were telling them. These impromptu visits added a lot of great information on top of the other data that we were all ready collecting. [If you know anything about psychology, there’s an issue called demand characteristics – which basically means that the participants are performing to please you rather than what they’d normally do, and in a study like this you have to do everything that you can to remove this kind of issue or at least get insights into when it’s occurring.]
There are some things that I can’t really talk too much about but instead, I’ll give some of those secret anecdotes that have been floating around Microsoft that many have never heard before
Pen Aerobics - Next time you go to a meeting watch what people do with their pens! We coined this terms simply because we would go to meeting after meeting and people would do all kinds of things with the pen. From tapping on the back end of it (careful with a tablet, you could erase all sorts of things) to twirling it in their fingers to disassembling it into its component parts. And this is with regular pens! With the tablet pens that we used for the trial they were a custom pen based on the FinePoint technology so they had a battery inside of them. It was pretty common to see the pen completely apart and people contemplating where to get another battery, seeing how deftly they could put it all back together. Clicking the button repeatedly was another common activity…. If it could be done it was…
Don’t touch that pen! – One of the real secrets which are related to pen aerobics is that you never, ever want to use someone else’s pen under almost any circumstances. Oh is there too much goop in your ear? Did you get something under your finger nails? Did you have an itch you wanted to scratch? It’s just plain old gross what people will do with their regular pens and with the tablet pens it was no different. A couple of us would keep an alcohol wipe around to clean off the pen if it was ever handed to us. I’m not someone who’s over the top on germs, but if you really watched on a day in day out basis, you’d be reluctant to use a pen that wasn’t yours… Thus keep your own pen handy and life will be good…
Ice Warmer – I have a picture of one of the trial users who was walking down the street it was about 20 degrees outside in with about 1.5 feet of snow outside and the participant needs to tie his shoe. So he places the prototype tablet on the snow bank and ties his shoes. The observers got a picture of the event and it made some of the engineering staff just totally freak. Here’s an expensive limited production prototype tablet just placed right into the snow! Luckily no damage to the tablet, but a near stroke from one of the team.
Coffee, Tea? – I know that Burt Parker in his Channel 9 video talked about the tablets used as a tray table in jest, but it wasn’t a jest. We had seen a couple of users just place their beverages or other lunch items right on top of the tablet to carry it to a table. A bit later on we had one of these users ask for a built in cup holder to be part of the tablet. His suggestion was either a ring on the back for the cup to sit in (and the processor could keep it warm too!) or for a ring to pop out of the PC Card slot like the ones that he has on the car. Of all the wacky inventions I’ve seen, I haven’t yet seen this one – just think of all the notebook users who now have built in wi-fi – they’ve got all these empty slots that could be cup holders J
Smudges – For the prototypes we used a very heavy overlay on top of the screen, much thicker than what’s on any of the current tablets (even the HP one) and we also applied an anti-reflective coating and a slight surface texturing to the overlay. The intent was to help the surface feel a bit more like writing on paper and to reduce the glare, but we ended up with a worse issue – the screen would smudge all the time. Greasy finger prints, hand prints, palm prints etc all over the screen. Luckily we were able to find the industrial size boxes of screen wipes and distributed them with the tablets to help the users keep the screen at least a little cleaner. In our case, the smudges would just get so bad that the users would constantly have to clean the screens just to be able to read anything. Luckily none of the OEMs/ODMs used the same set of materials we did!
Okay those were the fun ones, there were definitely some very serious ones which of course are the ones a little bit more difficult to share, but I’ll give you a sense of a few of these key insights that changed the course of tablet in the early days.
Failed Magic – At one point in time we had a feature called ActivePen this was discussed briefly in Business Week and other sources, but the essence of this feature was that the pen could be a mouse pointer (a cursor), a selection tool and a pen (lay down ink) all at the same time without requiring the user to switch between “Modes”. In Journal you’ll see that there is a Pen Mode, a Selection Mode, an Erase Mode and Highlight Mode (special case pen). At one point these modes didn’t exist. If you made a stroke on the page that looked like you were trying to write, electronic ink came out of the pen. If you tapped on some ink, it would get selected. If you tapped in between ink you’d get an insertion point at which point you could squeeze in some ink in between the different ink strokes. From a geek and development perspective this was a lot of cool stuff in that the heuristics and what not was complex but if you knew the rules it could work really well. Unfortunately we learned from watching users that these heuristics required lots of tweaking and were difficult to internalize when trying to simply write notes.
Line Based Input – The original version of Journal was more like a word processor than it was like a piece of paper. When you wrote in Journal it would take your ink and assign it to the closest line on the background of the page. You could insert inked words between other words and the ink would reflow on the page just like in any word processor. Plus if I changed the size of the paper by making it narrower or wider, the ink would reflow to take up the new space. Again pretty cool stuff, but it starts to fall apart pretty quickly because people simply didn’t write in between the lines – they just use the lines as guides, sometimes writing diagonally or even turning the page on the side to write.
Need for Speed – Robert talks about this in his blog, but it turns out that people want/need keyboards with their tablets at least at some point of the time. We saw this during our trials over and over again particularly since the prototype was a slate without any type of docking solution other than a USB hub and a spaghetti mess of wires connecting up all of their peripherals. If the Tablet becomes a person’s main PC then at some point in time the user is going to want to use a keyboard and having one that they can easily take with them becomes an important consideration.
There’s a lot more here and I’ll slowly get to some of them, but a hint of what’s to come…
n Breakfast with Steve Weil and the Car Ride with Charlton Lui about Journal’s Future
n Tablet as the Primary PC