Tuesday, October 24, 2006

First Impressions with Presto Preview

Well... it's been a week on the Presto Preview - aka the HP Printing Mailbox powered by Presto. I have good news and bad news.

Bad news first: I don't have any juicy dirt to sling about the product. Darn!

Here are my takes so far concerning the service:

- The product is too hard for their target market to setup. They're targeting Baby Boomers - or anyone in the 60 to 75 year range for that matter. No way could my grandmother have set up the unit by herself without someone helping. She read the setup poster, looked at me with a blank face and said "Do what?" I proceeded to setup the unit without any instructions. It's the same problem we had with VCRs... if it's not intuitive to someone with no technology experience, it won't be used.

- The technology is great and does exactly what was promised. But not enough work has gone into turning the actual equipment into something that doesn't require a big, six way folding, double sided poster to setup. I'm going to lay the blame for the hardware itself not being made "idiot proof" squarely on HP's shoulders. Over the years they have - in my professional opinion - tried to simplify printer setup but have yet to break through the intelligence barrier yet. I'm betting it's because they have too many engineers working in the product teams and not enough normal people.

- Instructions for the unit read like an engineer is trying really hard to explain something to a normal person. They need another level of abstraction so things come out like a normal person is explaining it to another normal person. Most technology companies suffer from this same problem. More time is needed to get the important things up to the surface and the technology related stuff hidden under the surface.

- My generation takes a lot of technology things for granted. Even simple stuff. For example, the instructions said to purchase "printer paper from your local discount store". My grandmother had never heard of "printer paper" or "copy paper" for that matter. I fished around with a few other explanations and the one she finally understood was "typing paper".

- The back-end of the service is still a work in progress. This was experienced firsthand when one day last week I sent an email that got rejected. Later in the day, the Preview support staff sent an acknowledgment that I had emailed during a transition to a new server.

- Along the same lines, a few things are still missing from the back-end. There are only 2 email templates (and 1 for Halloween) to chose from and only 2 "subscriptions" (think of them as electronically delivered newspaper or magazine clippings). According to the documentation, eventually there will be templates for most holidays and special occasions.

- Scheduled checks for new emails work as promised. Although I have had a few occasions where emails I sent near the check time weren't delivered until the following check. I'm not sure how long it takes there servers to process incoming emails into the format the Mailbox uses but in once case I emailed 20 minutes prior to the scheduled check and the email didn't make it on that check.

- Speaking of scheduled checks, there's a glaring feature omission - no button to initiate a check at that specific moment. As a regular email user, I would have expected the equivalent of a Send/Receive button so that a check could be made in case you were expecting something to be sent right then. There is no such button. So you just have to wait for the next scheduled check. If you have all 3 daily checks set up it's not an issue... but if you're using the default single daily check that might be a problem. (Yep, the default is for the unit to check for new messages once a day.)

- The biggest surprise for me was that HTML emails actually retain their formatting and picture placement. I've copied and pasted a few web pages into emails for my grandmother. They come out the other side with formatting and web page images in place as I would expect. That's a welcome feature since it means no one has to print web pages off for her anymore when she sees things on TV.