Ten Things in Tech that Should be Easier

on March 10, 2017

In an era of self-driving cars, artificial intelligence, and drones that can deliver packages, why is it so hard to turn on the damn TV? Technology has simplified a lot of tasks that used to be fairly involved and complex. The devices, wireless connectivity, cloud services, and so on are, for the most part, amazing.

Even so, I’m willing to bet sometime in the past week, in your dealings with myriad devices, apps, or software, you have muttered the following phrase: “Why is this so hard?” or “Why hasn’t someone solved this problem?” I’ve been developing my own list and polled friends and business colleagues. If there’s one overarching theme, it’s around the ability to more easily and effectively find, store, organize, sync, and manage content.

1. Contact Importing and Syncing — This area remains a mess. First, there’s still no great way to get contacts from an analog (i.e. business card) to a digital form. There are OCR readers and apps that use the phone camera but they’re still not that effective. Then there’s the complexity of “importing” contacts. The default method is to use the .csv format but seemingly every time, there’s some glitch or a column that doesn’t import correctly or a weird trick one has to perform to make it work. Plus, every major program, whether it’s Outlook, Apple, or a database such as Constant Contact, has its own variation on how to do this.

Syncing is Part 2 of my Contacts riff. For anyone trying to keep contacts up to date across a typical contacts list such as Outlook, Google, LinkedIn or perhaps an email marketing tool such as Constant Contact or MailChimp, it is still really tough to make it all work seamlessly and update new info automatically. There’s a fear that checking “sync Google contacts with LinkedIn” box will result in random duplications or some sort of wacky deletion of that carefully cultivated contacts list.

2. A Simplified Log-In and Password Regime — OK, this whole password thing has gotten out of control. Now we have two-step verification, ‘security questions’ even more obscure (favorite type of tree when I was five?), and requirements for password combos that only a savant could be expected to remember. Everyone seems to have their own little secret system for tracking this stuff — itself probably not very secure. With all this hacking stuff, one doesn’t get the sense things are going to get any easier. A lot of money is going to be made by the innovator who develops some über-password capability or some other method that significantly improves upon today’s systems.

3. Electronic Storage of Your Medical History — The federal government has poured billions of dollars into ‘electronic medical records’ and, for the average consumer, there is very little to show for it. It is amazing that every time you visit a new doctor, you’re asked to fill out a faded form that looks like it came off a 1960s-era mimeograph, with the same medical history you completed at the last appointment. Why isn’t there some sort of standard medical history form, coordinated through one’s GP, that can be accessed and updated electronically by the patient and other practitioners, on a permission basis? This sort of capability exists in pockets, within certain ‘ecosystems’ (and in other countries) but is not commonplace in the incredibly inefficient U.S. medical care system.

4. Easier Way of Managing Home Entertainment — How come it is so easy to summon up just about any content ever created but it remains such a logistical challenge to operate a home TV and its various appendages? The average home set-up still remains a clutter of multiple remotes, confusing interfaces, and the challenge of managing multiple input devices. No two home entertainment systems are exactly alike. Here’s a test: If you have guests staying at your house, it should not require two pages of instructions on how to turn on the TV and find the ball game or something on Netflix.

5. Finding, Organizing, Storing, and Syncing Music and Photos, Especially on iTunes — This is still difficult and confusing for the average consumer and, for some reason, it’s become harder, rather than easier, in recent years. Press the wrong button and all of a sudden, thousands of songs show up on your phone, killing your storage. As for iTunes specifically, what was once a wonderful platform has become a bloated, confusing, and outdated mess.

Dealing with storage on an iPhone is a companion issue. It is still difficult for the average person to get a handle on iPhone storage. To begin with, at least half the device’s storage seems to be taken up by stuff that has nothing to do with apps or content. Second, it’s still a challenge to manage and understand what media is ‘local’ (thus taking up storage space) vs. stored in the cloud. Third, when you get the ‘storage full’ just as you’re trying to snap the baby’s first steps, then frantically try to delete 100 photos, does that not free up storage? I pick on the iPhone in particular because there is no way to expand storage on the device.

6. Transferring Financial Info at Tax Time — For those who do a pretty good job of tracking their finances electronically through software such as Quicken or Mint, it’s still a bear to produce a good, aggregated report of income and spending, by category, then migrate that info into a popular tax program such as TurboTax. Quicken is a bit better. Mint, it’s cloud-based cousin, is awful at this.

7. Podcast Management — Podcasts have exploded over the past couple of years. Podcast apps are great for finding and downloading content but I’ve yet to find an app that makes it easy to organize content and develop an ordered playlist. Simple requests: for longer podcasts, especially those with ‘segments’, some sort of time stamp; ability to organize a ‘playlist’ or ‘queue’ so, if you’re in the car or out for a run, you can listen to one segment or podcast after another; and more easily manage how a podcast is downloaded to a device and deleted once played.

8. Saving Content to be Read Later — How many times during the day do you see some sort of content you’d like to queue up and read later? There are tools on individual browsers, great apps like Pocket, and content aggregators like Feedly. But they aren’t ubiquitous across all content and they work differently depending on device, browser, etc. I’d love an overall, “Save for Later” button, across content sources and platforms, that works the same on any screen/device, with the option of reading on any device, online or offline. Social media, namely Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter, are increasingly becoming content destinations/sources and need to be incorporated into this.

9. Organizing Email — Even with the growth of other messaging platforms, from texting to Facebook, email remains the dominant communication platform, especially for work. Lots of folks have taken a whack at developing tools for more effective email management but it doesn’t seem like anyone has cracked the code yet. This includes more effective filtering of spam/junk/suspicious emails.

10. Bluetooth — File this under the ‘could be better’ category. Bluetooth is now a big part of our lives but it can be still be challenging to pair a device or to make sure devices stay paired. Bluetooth ultimately works but often requires multiple attempts, toggles, and so on. And pairing it with a car system, especially with a non-familiar vehicle such as a rental or Zipcar, is always more complicated than it should be.

Do you share this same list? Are there some apps or features that get at some of these issues perhaps I wasn’t aware of? I’d welcome your thoughts and feedback. Perhaps this can be a semi-regular column.