Thought Leadership

Embedded expectations

By Colin Walls

A few years ago, I had the opportunity to take a few snaps of my friends’ son, Archie. He was about 3 years old at the time. Archie is a child of the 21st Century and, as such, he knows a lot about embedded systems. He might not admit to this knowledge, but he has been surrounded by embedded systems from the day he was born. This experience has informed his expectations about the world in significant ways…

Archie likes to have his photo taken. As you can see, he makes a nice picture. But, after you have taken the snap, he has expectations. He wants to see the picture on the screen on the back of the camera – because that is how cameras work in Archie’s world. Imagine using a film camera and telling Archie that he could see his picture in a couple of days. He would be unimpressed. And unimpressed 3 year olds are not good company.

In a world where we are all surrounded by embedded systems, we are all rather like Archie. We have expectations. Mostly, we expect things to work and to operate in a reasonably intuitive way. When that does not happen, we have very negative attitudes to the device and are likely to “black list” the manufacturer. [I, for example, would never buy a particular brand of cell phone, as the one I used to have some years ago exhibited user interface problems that drove me mad.]

When you are designing an embedded system, think very carefully about the user experience. If the UI is not up to scratch, not only will your product fail, but the whole company may be blighted. So think about your users. And think about Archie.


0 thoughts about “Embedded expectations
  • “When you are designing an embedded system, think very carefully about the user experience.”


    Case in point: Apple’s iOS 4 on the iPhone 3G. That was a situation where the OS taxed the phone way beyond its capabilities. There were times when I’d try to type on the touchscreen, and the whole UI would freeze for 15 seconds. It’s possible that it was an outright bug, but I suspect that system background processes, garbage collection, swapping, etc. were just bringing the poor little phone to its knees. On the iPhone 3GS and iPhone 4, iOS 4 performance was fine.

    Apple, which is often put on a pedestal for its user experience, really missed the mark there. I’m sure people at Apple had known about this. In my opinion, they simply should not have offered iOS 4 for any model prior to the 3GS.

    This is not a rail against Apple, it’s just to emphasize that the user experience is hugely important to a product’s perception. In Apple’s case, the 3G phone had already been sold, so in theory they didn’t stand to lose as much. But had the original 3G model (sold with iOS 2) exhibited the sluggish, laggy performance that came with the update to iOS 4, the product would have been stillborn.

    • I guess Apple is one company that can get away with the odd screw up. For the record, my bad cell phone experience was not with an iPhone. I do observe that my 1st generation iPad slowed down when iOS was upgraded, though not enough to make me uncomfortable and there was worthwhile extra functionality.

Leave a Reply

This article first appeared on the Siemens Digital Industries Software blog at