Oregon Scientific Smart Globe 3 FAIL (website and update)
January 14, 2010 49 Comments
Rarely do I get so irate over a product that I want to reach out and blog about it. I am generally more likely to post when I am really happy about something. Of course, I am not really upset at the product as much as the update and the website, so this is not really a knock on the smart globe.
If you don’t know what the smart globe is, it is a globe that comes with a “pen” that can tell you about spots on the globe. It contains many MB, maybe GB, of information, or at least I would guess so from download times.
The reason for update is the pen was saying the President was George W. Bush, so my daughter wanted it upgraded to say Barrack Obama. I am not totally convinced I like that upgrade, due to the current state of things, but we voted for change so I needed to change things. Yes, this paragraph is tongue in cheek. :-)
I may be a little overly critical right now, but the product has me a bit miffed.
The first problem I have with the product is installing on Windows 7. It identifies 3 drivers are needed, but only finds 2. It is possible this is a Windows 7 issue, but it makes me wonder if a missing driver might have something to do with my issue. I search for about 30 minutes and I cannot find a driver. In fact, navigating the Oregon Scientific site is often painful. I wonder if these guys need a web developer, as I am currently looking for my next gig. :-)
Suggestion #1: Make sure drivers are updated and easily accessible from your site.
Registering the Product
The first clue that there was something not quite user friendly comes when you insert the CD to install the software and it takes you to this site:
I see access code and tell my daughter she needs to find the access code. She finds the SG18 on the pen. This, it turns out, is the item number, not the access code. We try a few other things and I then have her go and get everything she has on the globe. The access code is on page 9 of the user’s manual. Now it is fine to put an access code in the owners manual, but why not state it on the site. I think you can have something like this:
Proper User Experience dictates that you help the user. If nothing else, state “You should read the user’s manual before filling out this form” or something. Don’t make me search for it.
Suggestion #2: Add clues to where information is found.
Update, take 1
We start up the program and choose United States as the country and ages 9-14 as the age range. Immediately after reconnecting the pen, it resets to ages 5-8. Why?
Suggestion #3: Set a flag in your program that states “the user has already screwed with settings. DO NOT RESET” rather than resetting. A bit later in the night, my wife tried and almost clicked download with the wrong settings, as connecting the device after program start resets all of the settings you have set.
Suggestion #4: Don’t rely on Windows update to update the drivers. You have an installer program for the software, install the proper drivers as well. You can have it contact the server with country if there are different versions. Or, you can have a code on the pen to identify the proper driver and ask during set up.
Not a big deal. Try again by resetting everything and clicking download. Here are the steps. Run the program:
The first step (download news) – about 8 seconds:
Then download data – Almost 5 minutes. (NOTE: 28678144 out of 25763845)
Then more data – 3 minutes
Then the program – less than 1 minute
Then update into pen – 10 minutes
Total Time = ~ 20 minutes
Man, that is slow. Admittedly the speeds above are on wireless, and I could have made sure I was on the wireless n node at 5 MHz rather than wireless G on 2.4 GHz. The speed does not really bother me that much, but it sure makes things painful when things go awry.
Everything seems fine. My daughter goes upstairs proud that the pen now states Barrack Obama. A few minutes later she comes down and says “Daddy, you did not use US English”.
Me: “Yes, Rebecca, I did.”
Rebecca: “No because it says the U.S. map only works with US English”.
Suggestion #5: Make sure the user downloads the right content. Assuming I let the reset get the best of me somehow, which is not probable in my memory, but possible, give me a confirmation before a 20-30 minute download. Come on!
Update, take 2
Taking a chance I might have clicked something or had it reset to something, I run the program again. Each time I run it, it takes about 30 minutes to complete. Very time consuming. And, if you download the same data set, it still takes 1/2 hour. Can’t you guys cache the information with a date stamp on my computer so I don’t have to redo EVERYTHING?
This time I get an error that the download failed. No, it did not. Bad error message. This reminds me of the old Access error message.
All that comes out of the pen is a clicking sound. Ouch! Click the reset button on the pen. Still clicking. Now this is absolutely annoying.
Segue: Customer Service
So I figure I will check and find a customer service number on the site. After about 5 minutes with no luck, I use Google. Okay, guys, when someone has to use a site specific Google search to find a customer service number on your site, you are FAILING. Only hours during the day. No luck.
So, I go to the customer service form. Here is the form:
The only pain here is having to go and find a Serial Number (none on the product) or UPC code (on the box we threw away). Google again. I get the form filled in and submit. If you have this problem, you can use this UPC, as it is all over the web. :-)
Submit and get:
Yes, you need to have 09 instead of 9. Once again, a user experience person is sorely needed here.
Suggestion #6: Put a bit of pain on the developer and have the web form allow me to format things my way.
Fix and submit.
I think there must be someone at Oregon Scientific saying “the programming team must be doing much better these days, as we are not getting any customer service email”. I guess I will have to call.
Update, Take 3
Cannot do anything now.
Suggestion #7: Don’t assume I successfully got the latest data. Allow me to say “I know, but I am stupid and want it anyway” or “Last time your program FAILED. Let me ddownload again”.
Update, Take 4
Have to update with Age 5-8 to get things working properly. Another 20 minutes of my life gone. Downloads fine and can now use the pen, but the age range is wrong. Daughter not happy as she is not 8. She is actually taking it pretty well since I have had her pen for quite some time now.
Update, Take 5
An hour after starting the update process, it still says:
Assume another fail and I want to go to sleep now. Daughter now asleep, so no complaining.
Update, Take 6
Since this is showing again
I guess I have to click another age range and then click download and then stop it and flip back to the right age range.
Until I get a chance to talk to someone in customer service, my daughter is in the 5-8 age group. After trying this 6 times, I had my wife install the program on her machine (Windows Vista). It seemed to complete everything. We waited a bit and unplugged the pen and it popped up an error message that no device is attached. By this point in time, my blood pressure was so high and it was 11:25 PM, so frankly I was too pissed to do anything other than reinstall the pen again with the 5-8 age group. At least it works.
I am a developer and I understand that stuff happens. But repeated failures like this are indicative of a larger problem. Product failure. Web failures. The product is pretty neat, but now that I have seen this, I start to wonder if the misses on the product are another programming bug (what I mean here is you can use one of the quizzes and click on the right spot and have it say try again numerous times before it gives you a new target to find).
I would personally be embarrassed to put this type of failure on my resume. In fact, I have quit jobs that put me into situations that required me pushing out something when it was not ready. I would rather quit than sign my name to something inferior.
To be fair, the Smart Globe is a lot of fun and has a plethora of interesting information. But the product update is very inconvenient and I wonder if the inconvenience is on accident or to ensure that a smart person cannot download the files and update the device himself without continuing a subscription. If so, the failures in updating are largely due to trying to ensure they continue to make money. And if this is the case, my final suggestion is allow people to easily update the product by treating the pen more like a USB flash drive and offer a reason to continue subscription (you have news, so that seems like a good hook) rather than hold me hostage through a process that forces me to stress my bandwidth again and again when your update fails. So let me make this a formal suggestion.
Suggestion #8: Set up the pen so it can be updated by simply moving downloadable files to the pen.
We have bought a few Oregon Scientific products for our children (Barbie products primarily) and the kids enjoy them. Fortunately, my daughter does not have to see the extreme frustration updating this one is causing me. :-) The bad thing is it leads me to question the quality of their products.
I know this blog entry sounds like I am really against this product, which is not the case. My daughter has played with it every day since she got it and the other children are having a huge amount of fun playing with it. I would recommend the product for others with children who are interested in geography, other countries, etc. That is why I have offered a number of suggestions, as the update process and website are a big FAIL in an otherwise pleasant experience. Perhaps Oregon Scientific has set up a Google alert and will see this tomorrow morning?
UPDATE: My daughter informed me the pen will not work with the book any more, so another FAIL. I guess I have to call customer service today.
Peace and Grace,