Hot Soup!

The microwave has been my tormentor for years now.

I hate it.

I always seem to use it wrong. I get unintended outcomes. Cold food. Overcooked cheese. Coffee that burns my face.

This means that  my wife has to help this “user” more often than not, and good-naturedly resets the 35 minutes that I have entered to warm something up back to the 35 seconds it really needed. It's not that I can not operate a microwave… it’s that I despise the UI.  Out of frustration and apathy, I mash the keys and hope it turns  on. Lazy? Perhaps. Wrong? NO! A microwave is supposed to be a simple, easy to use device. It gives you a simple and quick way to get… hot soup. Except over the years, microwaves have added more and more useless features … too many in my opinion.

Looking Back

Looking at the dial driven microwave my family had as a kid it was simple.

  • Open the door, insert item to be heated
  • Turn dial (automatically starts heating)

If you really wanted to go nuts you could change the strength down, but I can never remember touching that dial. And it was a dial. It was a natural feeling interaction for a human. My fingers could easily grip the control. My hand and wrist could twist with ease. My eye could see the indicator move over the timer and set the time. To cook a little, turn a little, to cook a lot, turn it all the way up. Super simple. Super easy.

Then came the Popcorn Button

And the pizza button, and the potato button, and the defrost, and the fast defrost and… a whole list of buttons that didn’t actually solve a problem. They provided a marketing and sales team with bullet lists of cheap features.

And while they added a boatload of bloat to the microwave’s UI, they killed the human-focused feature. The dial. The knob. The simple to use and understand mechanical piece that made it a device you could use with no thinking required and replaced it with lots of little buttons. Let's add a number pad! And a 30 second (or 1 minute) button (more on that in a bit). And let's add a clock! That means we need a clock button. And a start button. And a cancel button… this list is too long.

Lets. Add. Crap. And they did, and expected an engineering team to come up with a solution that was cheap, thus, all the button are the same size (I am looking at you too cheap, hard to use, throw them at the wall TV/DVD remotes). A little programming and a cheap push button UI and holy hell we have the microwave of tomorrow today… except you have a thing that I have to think to use. Except for one tiny button exists… the 30-second button.

The shortcut.

That's what I want right, the 30-second button? Punch it once. Add 30-seconds. Punch again, 1 minute. Repeat as needed. This is the solution to the experience that is forced on us. A shortcut. It's poorly done (at least on the microwaves I’ve used).

They should take a cue from TiVo. The TiVo remote has buttons that are different sizes. The big ones, the easy to see buttons, are the ones you use all the time. The tiny, hard to hit ones are the weirdo buttons, the ones you don’t use. How nice would it be if the 30-second button was big? Huge even? Maybe the biggest button on the microwave. You know what? The 30-second button is the evolution of the dial, knob. It's fast (sort of)and I do not have to hit start to get the microwave going. But I do not like it as well.

An idea for a new microwave UI

What if the microwave started with what the user needed from it and built its UI in a way that was easy to use and gave you great outcomes? What if I was not asked to enter time. Enter power. Hit start and hope to hell that you guessed right on two variables? What if you just said, “I want hot soup.” The device could take that input from you in a number of ways.

A dial, knob or touch screen UI that allowed me to say I want Warm, Hot, Boiling…  and in the microwave, a sensor watch the food and decided to add time and power or shorten the time or lower power and stopped when it reached the desired temperature. A quick twist or swipe and you get hot soup.

You actually talk to the microwave and say I want hot soup. That's it.

A small bar code laser is in the microwave and if you have an item that has a bar code, that can be scanned and sets the microwave up and delivers the perfect amount of time and power (customized to your device and location).