Tech Girl Issues #2: VR and Mixed Reality Headsets

I’m not just about my hair and nails, but if I take the time to look nice in the morning, I don’t want my efforts wasted by headsets (or any tech equipment) that I need to use everyday to perform my job.

As a woman in a development role, I’ve gotten used to the fact that I’m probably going to be the only woman within my team (and maybe the office depending on the size of the company). But to be honest, I don’t even notice things like this anymore, except when I’m actually using tech.

I enjoy the fact that I have an active role in the development and also the quality of the product that we deliver. I wholeheartedly believe that we need more females in development roles because we do think differently. And these differences will be reflected in the products that we eventually turn out.

So when I come across new innovations in tech that don’t seem to be designed with the other 50% of society in mind, it makes me slightly annoyed and disappointed.

We all know how important it is to ensure that your end user gets their hands on your product before you release, because if they only get it once it’s mass produced, it’s extremely expensive to recall and fix the problems or to teach the users how to use it.

The Tech Devices

Vive Pro

When HTC released the Vive Pro, we were lucky enough to get hold of a first version of the upgrade. And I wondered, having used the Vive Pro and the original for about year, does HTC even test these devices with a wide range of women?

With the high price point of these devices.you would expect it to be of a pristine quality and suitable for everyone, male and female who wanted to use it.

Now don’t get me wrong, out of the all the VR devices I’ve used in the last 18 months, the Vive Pro is actually one of my favourites. Plus being one of the first companies to produce a high end VR device must be hard without prior tech to build and extend. So I say this in the hopes that HTC amend they’re testing and development workflows so that they can gain more loyal customers.

Challenge 1: It doesn’t play well with my natural hair

With the first released version of the Vive, yes it’s heavy especially if you wear it as much as I do on a daily basis, but it’s comfortable. Except for when you want to take it off. The velcro on the headset is constantly catching my hair ripping out hard-earned growth. Then we come to the fact of what my hair actually looks like after removing this headset. Let’s just say if I tried to fix my hair after every time I took the Vive off, I’d probably lose an hour of work a day!

To get around this problem, I’ve resorted to either having to wear specific hairstyles that won’t need to be redone after constantly putting on and removing the headset or just give up and deal with the fact that I won’t have a tidy head of hair on my head throughout the day.

Challenge 2: Gives me a slight pain in the head

Now with this new and “improved” headset, although it’s supposed to be lighter, I’ve found that after about ten seconds I get a pain on the side of my head. This may be because I have a weird shaped head, or a small head but when I put the headset on, I adjusted to what I thought was suitable so that I could work. And this caused me pain. Should I need to be told the best way to put on a headset or should it be intuitive? The latter right? But, this is my job, so I’m going to have to figure out why the headset doesn’t like my head.

Note: After using the Pro everyday as my sole dwarfing device for VR, I don’t get this pain anymore. I’m not sure if my head’s gotten used to the weight or I’ve found a better fit, but I’m happy this is no longer a problem.

me with braids

Challenge 3: Braids don’t work either!

So as I’ve just been to Italy, I didn’t want to have to do my hair in 35°C+ heat everyday for two weeks, so the week before I got braids put in (the stickers on the back of my phone are the latest additions by my three year old daughter).

This was supposed to make life easier for me on holiday, but it didn’t at work. I don’t put my hair on any style extravagant, just up in a ponytail to keep it out of my face. But when I first tried to put the Vive Pro on I found that this wasn’t going to happen in my current style. So in order for me to test, I have to remove my hair band and put it back in when I’m finished every time. Needless to say this slows down work, but luckily it’s only temporary. But again, I’m reminded of the fact that this probably want accounted for during the design phase. I suppose the ”workaround” of taking my hair band out works, but should I have to use it this way? In 2015, 15 percent of males versus 8 percent of females had tried VR devices so to cater to the majority of users makes sense, but only at the expense of crafting a further barrier to entry for females.

Mixed Feelings with Mixed Reality

I’ve switched projects now and I’m using a Samsung Odyssey for testing. Overall, the device is nicely designed and light compared to other VR alternatives I have tried. And, I haven’t had the pain in my head when I first tried it like with the Pro so I’m happy about that. But, I still have the issue with my hair 🙁 I don’t think this is going to be a problem that’s solved anytime soon unfortunately. But I’d love to know the following things from HTC and Samsung to help me understand how they got to these design decisions:

  1. The percentage of testers that worked on the Vive products that were women?
  2. How many women HTC used during user testing of the Vive and Vive Pro?
  3. Did they choose a range of ethnicities?
  4. Did they even perform user testing?

Surely, I can’t be the only one that had these hairy (see what I did there?) issues? Maybe these issues were raised and were deemed minor or not a bug? I don’t know, which is why I need answers!

It sounds like I’m asking a lot, but for a global company like HTC and Samsung to roll out a product, you’d expect that they’d cater for the global audience. I mean, if a woman in her 70s wanted to start using her child’s or grandchild’s VR kit, why should there be a barrier for her?

Going Forward

I’ve used a few VR devices and they all have some accessibility issues. Making these products usable and comfortable for all users will increase the market reach, increase loyalty to the product (and possibly the brand) which would increase sales. So, why not invest more time into testing with a wide range of users to build out products that appeal to more customers?

Please consider this HTC, Oculus and Samsung. My hair and head would very much appreciate it.

Tech Girl Issues #1: Smartphone Keyboards

I consider myself someone who embraces new technology, games consoles, smartphones, tools or software. From a young age I’ve always had an interest in tech which has followed me all through life so far. But time and time again it still happens. I come across examples that make it obvious that this product that I enjoy or spend a lot of time using was not designed for me or with me in mind.

This week, I recall a particular issue that I has when I was buying my first smartphone.

Smartphone Keyboards

IMG 20180826 WA0002

In 2010 I decided to let go of the monthly phone contracts and upgrade to a two year contract. This would allow me to get my very first smartphone. HTC Desire was the first smartphone I tried in Carphone Warehouse but I soon came across a big problem.

I liked the size and look, but typing using the touch screen keyboard was particularly difficult. The main issue I had was that my nails were preventing me from using the keyboard. This was because I was trying to tap the buttons using my fingertips.

Now you can see in the image, I don’t have particularly long nails. I’ve also never had the lengths that false nails provide. But every few weeks after they’ve been cut, my nails reach just over half a centimetre. It’s at this point I tried using the Desire and I thought “if I’m going to have this problem every few weeks, then my life is going to get more difficult, not less with this device!”.

Let’s Try This Again

Seeing my annoyance and frustration, the sales assistance presented me with another option. He then brought out a Samsung Galaxy S.

48201652044PM 635 samsung galaxy s

Why did he present me with another smartphone after I obviously wasn’t getting along with this first one that was, at the time, the best selling? It was because of a small piece of software pre-installed on the Samsung Galaxy S devices called Swype.

Now I guess I would’ve experienced this problem with all smartphones, but only the Galaxy S had the Swype software to remedy this problem.

After he explained how to type using this feature, I was so happy. I signed the contract straight away and went home to show my husband. He was pleased for me, but not for him because he’d already purchased HTC Desire which didn’t have this fabulous feature.

I know it seems like a small thing. But, if I never was introduced to Swype, I probably would’ve stayed a smartphone virgin for a couple more years. This small limitation excluded purple work long nails and generally that’s women. Yes, we could cut our nails, but should we have to in order to use the product?

Since the introduction of Swype, it was available on any other Android devices via Google Play. Then Google even put their own swipe feature into their Google keyboard. And, amazingly, in September 2014 following the release of iOS 8, Apple opened up it’s keyboard platform to allow developers to create custom keyboards to introduce Apple users to the magic of swiping instead of tapping keys.

We Need More Tools Like Swype

swype keyboard 1519114223534

Swype had reduced the barrier to entry for me and I’m sure a lot of others with long nails. But there’s one thing I want to draw attention to. There shouldn’t have been an additional tool available by a third party company solving this solution. The phone manufacturers should’ve considered this when designing the phone and came up with their own solution. Reducing the barrier to entry for those with long nails may have introduced a lot more women into smartphones earlier than they did.

These days children have smartphones a lot earlier. Could this have been a way to change the way women and young girls thought about mobile phones. Maybe getting them into using it earlier would open their eyes into the possibility of creating with these devices?

Who knows, but it certainly wouldn’t have hurt.

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