Sometimes, less customisation is _not_ more
In recent years, there’s a trend towards providing less and less customisation options in programs, with a view towards getting the defaults “right” in the first place. Unfortunately, there’s a class of settings for which there is no single “right” answer, and customisation is necessary: locale-related settings.
- I live in the US, but I’m a New Zealander and I resent having to use US customary units (yes, I have to convert all the road signs to metric in my head, and I’m used to it, but the less of it I have to do, the better, you know?).
It really frustrates me that there’s still no sane way to get Google Maps to use metric, and it’s a key reason why I think the mainstream GPS navigation products still have a use.(Update: there now is, finally, a way to get Google Maps to use metric!)
- Date formatting is another pitfall. My preferred date format is
%His the 24-hour hour counter, for people unfamiliar with
strftimeformat strings), yet some apps (like HipChat) likes to enforce the use of 12-hour time everywhere, even when my phone’s locale settings is explicitly set to use 24-hour time only (as you may have noticed from the numerous phone screenshots on this blog).
- The Amazon MP3 Android app looks at your language settings to decide which country you’re in. This is really silly, because I use UK English for UI† (yes, I’d really much rather see -ise rather than -ize, and colour instead of color, and enrol instead of enroll, etc.), but I live in the US and have US credit cards, and so need to purchase everything from US Amazon.
Really, these kinds of settings are not as trivial as whether
trimURLs is enabled (though it does irk me that Chrome doesn’t offer a way to turn that off). There is serious usability impact, for people who don’t use the same units (or date/time formats) as “most people in the US”. Imagine what response I’d get if I wrote a program that only used
%Y-%m-%d %H:%M:%S timestamps and metric units, in the name of “sane defaults for the majority of the (English-speaking) world”.
Yes, I get that i18n is not a priority for many early-stage products. But seriously, Google Maps is by no means an early-stage product, and it is used by people all over the world. So frankly, I am surprised that they still haven’t got with the programme yet.
† I really would prefer to use NZ English for UI, though, since I still primarily use $ rather than £. I wish more programs offered that option.