10 things I don't understand about consumer technology

There are some things in this business that don't make any sense at all

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6. Why is iTunes for Windows the opposite of every other Apple product?

Nike President and CEO Mark Parker told a story this week about a call he received from Apple CEO Steve Jobs shortly after Parker took the helm. Parker asked Jobs for advice, and Jobs told him: "Nike makes some of the best products in the world. Products that you lust after. Absolutely beautiful, stunning products. But you also make a lot of crap. Just get rid of the crappy stuff and focus on the good stuff."

If Apple itself follows Jobs' advice, how do you explain iTunes for Windows?

I find iTunes for Windows literally the worst software application I have ever used.

Performance is comically slow. There's a full second or two between the moment I click on something and iTunes' response.

The user interface is hideously ugly. The type is too small. Among many other annoyances, it uploads my iPhone's apps to my iPad, forgets where it puts my files, and fails to transfer some random podcast episodes to my iPhone.

The listing of podcasts in List view (the only view that provides the information you need) barely differentiates podcasts from the episodes of those podcasts. Podcasts I listen to every day occasionally get sidelined because iTunes reports that I haven't listened to them in a long time.

ITunes is a train wreck. Why does the best user interface company make the worst Windows application?

7. Where are those Google personal-time projects?

Google employees are supposed to spend 20% of their time on projects that interest them, regardless of their job descriptions. The big stars of this program include Gmail, plus dozens of "Labs" products for Google, as well as the social networking service Orkut. Well, Orkut is a big star in Brazil, anyway.

Why aren't there more?

Assuming Google employees are the only white-collar Americans left who work only five days a week, 20% is one day a week, four days a month or 52 days a year.

If you assume an average two-week vacation per employee, 20% time adds up to 50 days per employee, times 20,000 employees, which equals 1 million days of work per year.

Stated another way, 20% of 20,000 people is the theoretical equivalent of 4,000 full-time employees. That's more than Facebook, Craigslist, Twitter, Digg, Wikipedia and Foursquare combined. Times two.

So 20,000 employees, each with a personal-time project? Where are the thousands of projects?

8. Why can't Facebook be used as an address book?

An address book or a contact database is simply a list of all the people I know, plus information on how to contact them. It's a social network, or at least a list of all the people in a social network.

Facebook is by far the most popular social networking service. Why can't I use it as an address book?

If you visit the URL www.facebook.com/#!/friends/edit/?sk=phonebook, you'll see that (for most people, anyway) the phone numbers of most of your "friends" are already in there.

What makes perfect sense is for each Facebook user to fill in their address, phone numbers, e-mail addresses and so on, and choose which "Groups" to share them with. Then, each of us could use that as the basis for our contacts, synchronize it with our phones and generally use Facebook, the same way we use the contacts feature of, say, Microsoft Outlook.

But it would be better than Outlook because I wouldn't need to painstakingly manage it by hand: People would update their own contact information.

Why hasn't Facebook rolled out this obvious feature?

9. Why can't I use Google Reader as an RSS reader?

I'm a huge fan of RSS, and for the most part I really like Google's RSS reader, Google Reader. But it has one extremely annoying quality: It forces you to wade through items "shared" by people you have "followed" on other Google services, such as Google Buzz.

I like to follow a lot of people on Google Buzz. And I'd like to use Google Reader as my RSS reader. But I can't do both. All my RSS feeds, plus all of the content that is shared by my Google Buzz pals, is just way too much content.

I don't understand why Google doesn't let me use Google Reader as an RSS reader. Why don't they let me turn off "shared" content with one click. Why does everything have to be yet another social network?

10. Why are driving directions so tiny on the Google Maps iPhone app?

You're not supposed to use the Google Maps iPhone app to get turn-by-turn directions while driving. You're supposed to pull over and memorize every offramp and every turn. But nobody does that. In the real world, people use it while driving.

The iPhone app does not offer audible turn-by-turn directions. They have to be read on-screen. Those directions are displayed in incredibly small type. The typeface is white on a pale blue background, and behind that is the map itself, which you can see through the overlay. In bright sunlight while driving, the small type represents a colossal safety hazard.

Under what circumstances did Google think people would be reading driving directions? Why didn't Google make the turn-by-turn directions easier to read?

Well, there they are: my 10 things I don't understand about consumer technology. What are the things that you don't understand? Please add yours to the comments area.

Mike Elgan writes about technology and tech culture. Contact and learn more about Mike at Elgan.com, or subscribe to his free e-mail newsletter, Mike's List.

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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