My household is, perhaps unsurprisingly, relatively loaded with gadgets. In fact at the last count we have one Mac, two PC's, four laptops, one netbook, two tablets (One IPad, one Android), three iPods, one iPhone, two Android phones, six standard phones of different kinds and a host of other odds and ends (including wirelessly connected Xbox and Wii game consoles). There are three different versions of Windows operating system, one Mac operating system, and two tablet operating systems (or four, if you count the flavours of Android on the smart phones).
Add to that one wireless network with Network Attached Storage, an ADSL connection and several large backup devices.
I'm betting there are small businesses with less I.T. to manage than that.
And I don't think my household is too far from the norm - add a few children to the mix, and many households would have a similar level of technology to deal with. Most importantly for me, this highlights a huge gap in our current technology marketplace - technical support.
Whilst some of those devices are relatively self supporting (the Wii and Xbox, for example), the majority of them need to go through a range of support steps every month. The laptops, PC's, Mac and Netbook all need to be regularly patched, and most of them also need to have protection software installed, updated and run. Two of the laptops run proprietary checking software suits which also need to be run. They regularly need to be disk checked and cleaned up, as the kids overload the hard drives or damage software with the 'instant off' button press of doom.
In my house, those tasks regularly fall to me. Usually, a child approaches with a sullen look on their face and a laptop in hand, saying something along the lines of "Dad, it's not working!" They pass the offending laptop to me, and I then start trying to figure out why.
On a good day that's a relatively short ten minutes of killing an app that might have locked up, or maybe just rebooting. On a bad day it might entail catching up on several weeks worth of Windows Updates, updating virus/spyware software, running virus/spyware checks, rebooting several times, installing new software, removing something dodgy, rebooting several more times, and finally surrendering the still non-functional laptop with a shrug of my shoulders and a promise to look at it again later.
And before you cry Apple, the iPods can be just as bad - missing apps and apps that once worked but suddenly stopped, accounts that mysteriously refuse to accept known passwords, and many more problems abide.
If you happen to work around technology or have years of experience, then you have some hope of getting around many of these issues - but when you have a home fool of kit that all needs attention and a bunch of kids who all press the 'later' button when updates appear, then hope seems to fade.
Ease of use isn't just about the interface, it's about the entire experience. If you can start up a laptop and do everything you need to do, that's great. But the entire experience with that laptop includes supporting it and integrating it into your home. It includes fixing it when things go wrong, and getting that MP3 player to work with it seamlessly. It includes figuring out how to back it up to an external hard drive in a way that you can restore easily, and it includes helping you recover when things go wrong.
Sure, I can train everyone in the home to learn how to run updates and how to connect to the NAS - and believe me, I try - but that's not the point. The point is, our lives shouldn't be made ever more complex by a wide range of devices. Technology should enrich our lives, not drag us into the mire. There is a need for a layer of smarts between us and these many devices, that simplifies and manages for us. And it's something I'd love to design.