Getting mugged at home

It’s not often that a user experience is so bad that you feel like you got mugged. But that happened to me this week.

It all started with the purchase of a new Blu Ray / PVR recorder at home. Our old model was pretty easy to use, but was experiencing some issues and needed replacing. Some shopping around and some negotiating, and there we were with a new Panasonic PVR plugged in and ready to go.

I could talk about the complex interface and poor usability of some of the features on this device, but for once I won’t – mostly because what it did in one particular place was so bad, I think it needs a little focus.

The problem occurred when we discovered a feature that apparently allowed you to copy recorded content to USB. Now, this feature was far from well explained, but it seemed like something useful, and we tried to use it.

Attempt number one saw us try the most obvious path. We plugged a USB stick into the available USB port, and tried the copy function. No, said the PVR, Cannot copy to this USB Drive. Hmmm.

Attempt number two (after trying a couple of other USB sticks) was to try a proper ‘USB Drive’, a 1TB drive I use for backups at home. I took my queue from the error message in the system, thinking perhaps it was the type of drive that mattered. But again, no joy. Logical reasoning was getting us nowhere, so we buried ourselves in the manual.

And there was the answer – the drive had to be registered before it could be used. Strange, but true.

So we went into the settings, my wife driving the controller whilst I watched on. And there, on the confirmation screen, about halfway down, for just a fleeting second before she hit OK, were the words “All content will be deleted..” I opened my mouth, but it was too late – the process had started.

In one click we had accidentally wiped out a couple of months of backups. Great. Now, I appreciate we should have read more, but bear this in mind; the function we had selected was to ‘Register’ the drive. Not to format it, not to delete from it. As experience has shown me over hundreds of user tests, rule number one in design is “User’s don’t read”. So the design, the functions, the actions, need to speak clearly. In this case that had spectacularly failed.

But then again, these were backups only, so what the hell. Lesson learned.

We proceeded with the function, and found that whilst the word ‘copy’ had been used liberally, it was actually a Move – the process on the PVR would move content onto that drive, but not keep it – I can only assume for DRM reasons. Not exactly what we had wanted to do, but fine. My hopes of watching recorded TV on a train ride were still somewhat alive.

Not for long though – when I plugged that drive into my PC, nothing happened. No drive appeared, no content appeared, TV was but a distant dream. And with rising horror, I realized that not only had the PVR deleted all the current content, it had completely reformatted the drive in a way inconsistent with PC access. As far as the devices in my home were concerned, the drive was now non-existent…

Undo, I thought, Undo!!! So we quickly referred to the manual to see what we had to do to de-register the drive. And here’s where my mouth hit the floor. The instructions said “This function cancels the registrations of all the USB HDDs registered on this unit. Only do this if you are going to dispose of this unit.” Dispose? DISPOSE? Was this telling me what I thought it was telling me? Was this reallysaying that my drive was now dead?

Accessing the system made this even clearer – the on-screen instructions told us to only choose this option if we intended on giving away or throwing out the drive.

And there you go; the moment when I felt like I’d been truly mugged in my own home. This little device I’d bought and installed had trashed, permanently as far as it appeared, a perfectly functioning and well used family device – with no real warning.

Since we had nothing else to lose we did cancel the registration, at which point the drive was still non-functional as far as Windows was concerned. It took a couple of hours of searching the Internet and repair work before I eventually discovered how to return the drive to life. It’ll take days more time to backup everything again. And all for one poorly structured message on screen.

I’ve had bad experiences with devices before, I’ve had bad experiences with websites and software. But I’ve never had a device trash something then tell me I had to throw it away, especially when that something was a potentially expensive external hard drive.

Panasonic, your invitation to come visit has just been revoked

Gary Bunker

the Fore