OneNote’s Massive Failure: Are You Learning?

No matter how great your app is, if you mess this up, it will fail.

I’m talking, of course, about user experience. Not design, not implementation.

Listen. User experience (UX) is tough. No one’s denying that. In fact, it’s one of the hardest parts of software design. The people who are most engaged in building the software are absolutely the last people who should be handling UX. The more you know your software, the less-qualified you are to evaluate it. That’s why a fresh perspective is so important– both for the team, and for the software.

But if you aren’t going to hire a UX consultant, the least you could do is try.

If you don’t test, you make stupid mistakes.

In the case of Microsoft’s first foray into the iOS market, this is painfully obvious. OneNote for iPhone is perhaps the most botched implementation of a product I’ve ever seen from a major developer. And it’s clear that its developers never even tested it the way a new user would. Let this be a lesson: test thoroughly on a brand-new system, with brand-new info. And for god’s sake, don’t launch until you’ve tested the s*** out of it.

I wanted to review OneNote when it was released, to compare it against the other (strong) iOS note-taking apps. I eagerly downloaded the app, but found that it simply wouldn’t launch. Deleted it, re-downloaded it, same thing.

Now, I imagine I’m not alone in this– but also imagine that not every iPhone is unable to launch the app. For whatever reason, it just doesn’t like my phone. (Maybe because it’s unlocked? Doubtful.)

Waiting to fix bugs in an update? Bad idea.

Further updates came– two in total– and each time I dutifully downloaded the app from scratch. I got nowhere.

But finally, earlier today, I found that Microsoft had posted a new update. This one promised to “improve support for customers unable to sign in”. That’s a rather clever way of saying “this version improves the ability to start up”. But hey, if it works, I’ll take it. I’ve been interested in trying out OneNote ever since people started raving about the PC version. I am what every developer wants: a user who’s already interested, and already willing to put time and effort in. (You’ll see how I was rewarded for it in a minute.)

I found out that the app requires a Microsoft Live account to function, but– hooray!– this time it actually launched and asked me for my login. I don’t have one, so I went through the signup process: choosing a username and password, entering an email address, etc.

The app told me to check my email and click the confirm link, so I did. And I was presented with this:Notavail

Note to Microsoft: if a customer is going through a signup you’ve made mandatory, and cannot sign up because you’ve sent them to a Web page that’s purposefully designed not to work on their device, and is given no other options, and has already tried to use your app a total of THREE other times, they are not going to go easy on you.

It’s important to realize that there is absolutely no reason why this page shouldn’t be “designed for mobile”, as it claims. The iPhone renders 97% of standard web pages properly. And when you build an iPhone app that loads a Web page, you’d better make damn sure it can load the page.

So what can we learn from this?

There are few (if any) reasons for this kind of glaring oversight. Either the page is using some proprietary technology (which it shouldn’t be, since it’s a simple confirmation), or no one actually realized that the iPhone can’t load ActiveX (“Oh, hmmm”) or there was a total lack of any testing whatsoever.

Either way, this is a systematic, catastrophic failure.

What do you think?


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