Archive for the ‘Opinion’ Category

OnePlus 3T vs OnePlus 5: Only incremental goodness

The fact that the OnePlus 3T is an impressive handset needs no reiteration. So, instead of focusing on the already-celebrated merits of the 3T, I wrote an Amazon review mainly addressing the question that has been bothering OnePlus 3T users of late: whether an upgrade to the “5” is justifiable.

I bought the OnePlus 3T a month ago, knowing fully well that the launch of the OnePlus 5 was just around the corner. Even then, ever since OnePlus released the “5”, I have been tempted to upgrade. Still, nothing short of a shut-up-and-take-my-money value proposition could have convinced me to shell out ₹38K more of my hard-earned money on this shiny new toy.

While the OnePlus 5 specs are undeniably unmatched, a couple of visits to the OnePlus Experience Zone in Noida convinced me that the overall package is only an incremental improvement over the 3T. In many cases, the difference isn’t discernible even on close scrutiny. On the looks front, the OnePlus 5 seems to have taken a step back with only two drab colors available.

While the jury is still out, I did observe the rear dual-camera on the 5 click some excellent portraits with nicely-defined bokeh. However, OnePlus’ algorithm seems to fail to recognize more than one human subject, bringing only the closest one into focus. There is no front dual-camera anyway, so selfies, which is how most portrait photos happen these days, won’t have the depth effect. In fact, I compared the front cameras of the 5 and the 3T side-by-side and could observe no appreciable difference.

The shape and color of the 5 was the real deal-breaker for me. Depending on the version of the 5 that you choose—6 GB/64 GB or 8 GB/128 GB—you have only one of the two colors available. The two “grayish” colors, on their own, are not sufficiently differentiated.

I have no direct data about the battery life of the 5 available, but the 3T works like a charm on that front too. Even upon very active use—9 to 12 hours of screen uptime—the 3T’s battery lasts me more than a full day (24 hours). Efficient in every sense of the word!

Upon great deliberation, then, I have decided to stick to the 3T and give the 5 a miss, at least for now. Maybe, I’ll wait and watch if the 5T is in the works. Alternatively, if the 5 becomes available in some tempting colors (think red!), I might just reconsider my stand. Even then, the lack of an impressive value proposition for upgrade may just tilt the scales to the detriment of the 5 once again.

MY VERDICT: NO. There are no pressing reasons for OnePlus 3T users to upgrade to the OnePlus 5.

MakeMyTrip #fail: Refusal to recognize a glaring bug

This is the first (and, hopefully, the last) rant I’m going to post to this blog.

Recently, I had a surreal experience debating the definition of a usability bug with a MakeMyTrip “engineer”. No, he wasn’t interested in the generally-accepted definitions of a bug; he believed the onus of proving what I’d experienced was a bug fell squarely on me.

Before I share the details of my ordeal, let me quote how Wikipedia defines a software bug:

A software bug is an error, flaw, failure, or fault in a computer program or system that causes it to produce an incorrect or unexpected result, or to behave in unintended ways.

And here’s another definition—this time from an Intel blog:

A usability bug is any unintended behavior by the product which is noticed by the user and has impact on the user.

Did you notice the word “user” in this definition? Yes, the powerless unsuspecting user who often loses money or is put to inconvenience when corporations fail to tie up the loose ends in their code. And money I did lose because of MakeMyTrip. So far, it hasn’t come back to my bank account.

The ordeal…

Here’s how it all began. On December 6, I set out to book an air ticket from Delhi to Bangalore for my upcoming trip. I visited MakeMyTrip on my Windows 8 mobile phone (Nokia Lumia 720) and booked the ticket. When I received the confirmation email (booking ID NF7901329760605), I was shocked to see that the ticket had been booked for Mumbai instead of Bangalore, my intended destination. How did that happen?

When you visit MakeMyTrip.com using a mobile device, you’re presented with the following screen to begin with:

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You go ahead and click Book Flights to land at the flight booking form. Notice that Mumbai is the default destination in this form.

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You change the destination to your intended destination and select a Departure date:

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Now, you try to select a Return date as the next natural step. The form resets the Destination field to Mumbai automatically without any warning! Yes, just like that. See this screenshot:

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Note: All these screenshots were taken on January 1, 2014 using my Windows 8 phone.

Proceeding with the process, I ended up booking a ticket to Mumbai instead of Bangalore! What’s worth noticing in this case is that, in all likelihood, users booking their tickets on smaller screens (mobiles and tablets) would realize what happened only after the booking has completed. I’m sure I’m one of the many users reporting this issue to MakeMyTrip.

The endless wait…

I reported the issue to the MakeMyTrip voice-based customer care team as soon as I received the confirmation email (incident ID 131206-037689). On their advice, I also went ahead and booked another ticket for the same departure and return dates (booking ID NF7901129761703)—this time really to Bangalore—and all within a space of 30 minutes. MakeMyTrip customer care also suggested that I cancel the earlier unintended ticket. The cancellation penalty of ₹2000 would be refunded to my account after “due investigation”, I was assured. Just to be sure, I also emailed customer care the details of the case and exact steps to reproduce the bug. See this email.

What followed was 13 days of silence, punctuated only by system-generated emails asking for several two-day extensions to address the issue. Finally, around December 20, I received a call from one Mr Himesh (if I recall the name correctly), apparently from their “technical team”. I walked him through the steps and reproduced the bug on phone. He seemed dismissive right from the beginning and ended the call saying, “Main nahin maanta yeh bug hai” (I don’t believe this is a bug). When I asked him what other name he had coined for the glitch, he had no answer.

No closure…

Surprisingly, even after this interaction, I continued receiving system-generated emails from MakeMyTrip customer care asking for further two-day extensions. Finally, on December 26, I received an email saying “the higher authority” had decided that “there is no bug” and that MakeMyTrip would be unable to refund the cancellation fee.

Persistent, I tweeted to MakeMyTrip customer care and demanded answers to three common-sense questions:

  • Why would I book a ticket to Mumbai when I clearly wanted to go to Bangalore?
  • Beyond doubt, the MakeMyTrip website produced unexpected results in this case, causing me inconvenience and monetary loss. If this issue is not a bug, what exactly is it?
  • Why has MakeMyTrip not bothered to fix this issue even after 20 days of my reporting it? Is customers losing money not a serious matter for the company?

I have received no answers so far.

Hoping against hope…

I’m going to send a link to this blog post to the MakeMyTrip customer care in the hope that somebody who values customers will look into this issue. While a monetary loss of an amount as insignificant as ₹2000 does not bother me much, it is sad that one of the largest online travel companies in India sees no value in familiarizing its employees with the fundamentals of UX and customer advocacy. What’s also evident is that MakeMyTrip customer care is an entirely disorganized department with no effective way of tracking issues to closure.

For the while, I’ve vowed never to book my travels with MakeMyTrip again. By contrast, my experience with their competitor, ClearTrip, has always been great.

One company’s loss is another’s gain. Quite literally in this case.

Installable clients for SaaS

The more I use smaller-screen devices, the more I get convinced that SaaS software and Web applications deliver the best user experience only when I’m using them through ‘installed’ frontends. Why else would I prefer using the Facebook app on my Android phone over browsing Facebook in a full browser window on my laptop? Or access Twitter using TweetDeck (an AIR application)?

The online-offline integration that such frontends offer takes user experience to a different level. That’s precisely why Picasa is such a pleasure to use on my laptop, as against just using it online. In fact, my mind doesn’t quite register an app running only in the browser as a bonafide app yet!

Why don’t we have more installable frontends for popular SaaS applications out there? Google Docs, for example? That the traditionally shrinkwrap software applications are Web integrated now is a different matter altogether. Adobe Reader and Microsoft Office, for example.

Food for thought, eh?

BTW, this blog post was written using the WordPress app on Android. 🙂

Some kudos for Evernote

I stumbled upon Evernote a few months ago while looking for a software application to manage my ever-growing to-do lists. As the name suggests, Evernote is not a to-do management software. It is simply an application that lets you take quick notes in any situation and from any device. However, since it let me add check-boxes next to lines of text, it doubled up as my simple “to-do management” app as well, besides becoming my everyday note-taking software. It suited me just fine also because I work across three computers — my office laptop, my office PC, and my home laptop — on any given day.

So what does Evernote have that Google Docs (unfair comparison, I know!), Notepad, or for that matter some of the expensive note-taking software out there, doesn’t? Here’s what:

  • Evernote is not entirely in the cloud or on your PC. It’s somewhere in between. Most importantly, it lets you decide which notes you want to save in the online repository and which ones you want to store locally. So, if you’re worried about your intellectual property living on somebody else’s servers, Evernote may be a good app to try.
  • It supports elaborate on-the-fly tagging of notes and notebook/folder-based organization; something that you’d expect from a good note-management software.
  • The storage limit for free users is well calibrated. I usually take only text notes and I haven’t been able to consume even 10% of my monthly limit over the three months that I’ve been using Evernote for.
  • The “ink note” feature comes handy if you like to conjure up impromptu diagrams and schematics.
  • The Search, Print, and Email features work like a charm. It’s obvious that the app developers chose to stick to a limited array of features, but deliver them well.

And did I tell you that the UI of Evernote rocks as well? It’s clean, unambiguous, and very thoughtfully designed.

Another good thing about Evernote is that, besides PCs, it works with almost all breeds of smartphones out there. I haven’t used Evernote on a mobile phone yet, but I’ll likely have an opportunity to do so later this year. More about the mobile experience later then!

[Update 6/2/2011] I use Evernote on two more devices now — my HTC Desire HD running Android Gingerbread and iPad 2. Having all my notes available on any of the five devices I use is a great convenience. However, the app developers could probably add a feature or two to better support checklists and rich-text notes on smart portable devices.