I rarely get so excited about technology that I post about it – that’s not this blog’s raison d’être.  However, between being snowed in (a rare occurrence in Atlanta, GA!), being really delighted with a great product that really solves a familiar and widespread problem, and enjoying a very positive series of customer experiences with the product’s vendor, I thought I’d break ranks, as it were, and talk about a product – and how it manifests the evolution of end user programming and what used to be called “user friendliness.”

The Challenge of ‘Best of Breed

I think everyone in IT has at some point wrestled with the choice between ‘integrated’ solutions and ‘best in breed’.  The analogy of home entertainment plays out well to illustrate the pros and cons.  I won’t go into this well worn territory – suffice it to say that most of us end up with best of breed, and pay the price of a coffee table full of remote controls and the minor maintenance headaches they bring with them (how many different kinds of batteries can remote control manufacturers find to make our lives miserable?)

An Early Solution

In 2006, my wife and I with our ’empty nest’ decided it was time to downsize our living situation and move into a town house in a community with shared common areas such as gym, swimming pool, tennis courts, and so on.  To be frank, I was not thrilled with the downsizing plan, but managed to blackmail myself with the idea that we’d get the basement of said town house finished and turned into a home theater and a nice home office (where I spend much of my time).  Strangely, the basement in our town house is where the second story of most homes would be (don’t ask!) so the office has windows with great views into the woods.

With money saved by the down sizing, I went for a pretty high end (for the day) home theater, with best of breed components.  Given the state of the technology in 2006 (HDMI was not very prevalent then), I opted to have a local company source the technology and install it for me.  I also opted for a single remote – the Philips Pronto – a jokingly called ‘programmable’ device.  I remember watching the installation team set up my system.  It took the best part of the day, and for most of that time, one of the install team sat on the floor with a laptop and the Pronto unit, programming and testing to accommodate my flat screen TV, surround sound, Tivo, DVD, etc.  Eventually, they got it all working and – voilà – a single remote controlled everything.  Sort of.  It never did work quite right, but was close enough for my wife and I to live with it.

Along Come the Upgrades…

Live with it, that was, until I needed to upgrade technology.  Add a Blue Ray player, for example, and that’s the end of single remote simplicity!  So, I decided to master programming of the Pronto device.  I was trained in IBM Assembler and Cobol early in my career, but never thought of myself as a programmer.  And programming the Pronto reinforced my “non-programmer” self-perception and my lack of  patience for the arcane or obscure.  I quickly gave up!  It was just too complex and time-consuming.  So I put up with 2 remotes – the Pronto plus Blue Ray player.  Then 3 remotes – the Pronto plus Blue Ray plus Roku.  By Christmas, we had decided to upgrade our flat panel TV with the latest 1080p Plasma.  Goodbye Pronto, hello 6 remotes!

Then Relief!

A little web research convinced me that the Logitech Harmony One was worth a try.  An Amazon ‘one-click’ and 48 hours later, and I was opening the box to my putative problem solver!  What a delight!  Everything from the easy-open, “green” packaging, to the instructions, to the slick look and feel of the device oozed ‘design thinking.’

Programming the device through a web interface (they must have a library of thousand of remotes and their code strings) was as simple as could be.  Once programmed, you have a touch screen device – select the activity you want (watch TV, watch Roku, listen to a CD, watch a DVD, etc.) and the right components are switched on in the right sequence and set to the right inputs and outputs.  If you need to, select the device you want, and the Harmony One remote behaves exactly like that device.  No more batteries – the Harmony One sits in a nice little charging cradle.

And a Reinforcing Customer Experience

Capping my delight, today I got an email from Glenn Rogers, Logitech‘s Director, Customer Experience, inviting me to provide feedback on “How are we doing?”  This was the most thorough and well-designed customer survey I have ever taken!  I’ve found some customer surveys actually frustrate me and lower my opinion of the company seeking input.  This was just the opposite.  They wanted to know about every aspect of how I researched, how I purchased, how I experience opening the package, installing the software, setting up the device, and so on.  I felt like they really cared about me as a customer and what they could do to improve my customer experience.

Not Perfect, But…

I don’t want to pretend that the Logitech Harmony One remote is perfect – there are some minor nits (fed back to them via their survey), but they really are minor.  This is a slick device in every respect and is a great example of how to make ‘programming’ not just user friendly, but actually user seductive!  Congratulations, Logitech!  Want to buy a bunch of old remotes, anyone?

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