The other day I gave my email address to IKEA so they can notify me when a certain new product becomes available to order. Yesterday that notification arrived, and it serves as a great example of how IKEA still seems to be struggling to leave its old-world roots behind and embrace the digital age.
Here's a screenshot of the email.
A "no-reply" email address is as 90s as it gets. It's a rude and lazy "talk to the hand". The sender is basically turning email into a one-way broadcast and forcing you to use the channels of their choosing should you want to reply.
But IKEA even goes a step further: They actually tell you in the first line of the email that they do not want you to send them email:
"Dies ist eine Non-Reply-Nachricht..."
The statement itself is comical, but what makes it even more ridiculous is that they're mixing German with English. And they're only telling you that you can't reply to the email, but they're not providing you with alternative means of communication. They do actually mention a phone number you can call, but it's only listed in the email's footer, where they also list their, yep, fax number.
Then there's the incorrectly encoded special characters that show up as question marks. This is especially ironic, given how many of IKEA's products have umlauts in them. Also note the <br> in the subject line and that, even though they're sending an HTML email, they fail to make the link to the product's availability page clickable.
The plain-text version of the same email looks even worse:
Not only does it contain the same broken umlauts, it also contains entity-encoded HTML tags and it's missing all the information the footer in the HTML version contains, like the customer service phone number. Ironically, in this plain-text version the link at the bottom is actually clickable because my email client, MailMate, recognizes links in plain-text emails and makes them clickable.
This single email really underlines IKEA's ongoing reluctancy towards embracing e-commerce. It shows a clear lack of understanding of even the most basic aspects of online business and communication.
IKEA's marketing's main goal still seems to be to get you to visit their brick-and-mortar stores. While their website/online store is actually not that bad, you can still tell that they'd rather have you come by in person. Maybe it's because they actually make their money on the hot dogs, who knows.
The best way to tell how ass-backwards IKEA's approach to e-commmerce is by taking a look at the shipping costs for online orders. They actually increase with the order value.
Admittedly, the same shipping costs apply when you buy in their stores and have it shipped instead of hauling it home yourself. But that's exactly the problem: IKEA is adapting offline strategies to e-commerce 1:1 without taking the realities of online shopping into account. You really have to wonder if they're even really taking e-commerce seriously.
I'm usually not an early adopter of anything. I hardly ever get the 1.0, I tend to wait for at least the 1.3 or, even better, the 2.0.
But after experiencing VR for the first time with an Oculus Rift DK2 back in 2015, I was sure that (this incarnation of) VR would change gaming entirely, at least for me. I eagerly awaited the arrival of the consumer version of the Rift.
When the Oculus Rift CV1 (Consumer Version 1) arrived in March of 2016, I initially balked at the price and decided to wait for a price drop. I wasn't gaming much at the time anyway. I usually game in "bursts", and then don't touch anything but the most casual iOS games for weeks or even months. So holding out for a cheaper Rift didn't seem too hard.
Oculus Rift or PSVR?
Come October, a neighbor of mine told me he had pre-ordered a PSVR. My initial plan was to wait until he got it, try it out for a bit and then maybe either get one too or get a Rift. Before I even got to try the PSVR, something clicked in me. Just through some general discussions about VR and watching some Youtube gameplay videos, my VR spark was relit. Since I already own a fairly capable gaming PC (Intel Core i5, GTX 980, 16 GB RAM), I decided to skip the whole PSVR evaluation and got an Oculus Rift CV1.
At that point, the Rift still shipped with an XBOX One controller instead of true VR hand controllers. But the Oculus Touch controllers had already been announced, due for early December. Looking at the PS4's dated "Move" wands and the Vive's awkward and bulky-looking donuts-on-a-stick, I felt pretty sure that the Oculus Touch would put the Rift well ahead of the competition and it would therefore be worth the wait.
Now that I've got both the Rift and the Touch controllers and have had a chance to try them out with a handful of games, it's time for some (obviously totally subjective) pros and cons.
Oculus Rift Pros
- Touch controllers are lighter and feel more natural than PSVR and Vive controllers
- Built-in on-ear or in-ear headset (one less cable dangling from your head, and they sound great as far as I'm concerned)
- Headset is lighter than PSVR and Vive, overall pretty comfortable
- Allegedly less screen-door-effect than on the Vive (I have no first-hand experience)
- Very good first-run experience and quick setup
- Ability to retrofit some 2D games with VR capability through vorpX (this works too with the Vive, but not with PSVR)
Oculus Rift Cons
- Shorter headset cables (although I extended mine from 4 to 6 meters without any issues)
- You have to run USB cables from the sensors to your PC
- Slightly more expensive than the Vive (with Touch controllers and 3 sensors), much more expensive than the PSVR (unless you already have a gaming PC, which I did)
- Slightly smaller play area (not an issue for me, as the Rift's capabilities max out my available space)
VR Headset Wars
You might wonder why I'm not listing the Oculus Rift's (supposedly) "closed ecosystem" approach to games as a con. While I do acknowledge that this approach is controversial (although I don't seem to see as many complaints about Sony's equally closed approach), right now I don't think I'm missing out on much, as many games for the Vive are also playable on the Rift (and vice-versa) through Steam VR.
Secondly, I also think that if VR is going to become a serious "thing", there will have to be incentives for developers to make great VR games. Because great games will get more people to buy VR headsets, which will lower prices, which will make VR more accessible, which will make more people buy the hardware and games,... and so on.
Some argue that VR headsets are just another peripheral like a keyboard or a mouse. I would argue that VR is a platform, one that makes a completely new and separate category of games and experiences possible. And as with any platform, it takes initial investment to get get it to the tipping point where it goes from early-adopter niche gadget to mass-market household staple.
What that means is that to make VR a viable platform, it's going to take money. Money the platform owners need to invest to get the platform "over the hump". One way to approach that is through subsidized development, and that usually means platform exclusivity.
Right now VR headsets are a bit like consoles, in that you need so-called "system sellers" for consumers to consider making the investment in the platform. Without system sellers like "The Last Of Us" or the "Uncharted" series, the Playstation would have probably died by now.
The economics of VR are still significantly different from those of conventional PC or mobile games. Different rules apply, things still have to shake themselves out before we know which way the VR train is headed, if any. And until then, it's up to the platform makers, game developers and early adopters to each play their part in establishing VR not just as a new platform, but as a viable business.
The Outlook for VR
I'm completely hooked on VR, but even I'm not convinced it will catch on, at least not enough to become a market big enough to support the development of big-budget titles. Because that's what VR is lacking right now: truly big-budget, large-scale games that can justify a $40+ price tag.
With very few exceptions, VR games currently fall into one of the following categories:
- Demo-like experiences with minimal interactivity
- Fully interactive games, but either short or small (in scope)
- Retrofitted: Non-native VR through vorpX ranging from "cool with compromises" to "unplayable"
It remains to be seen where the VR platform will go and how fast we'll get there. Right now it's too early to tell because even the platform makers and game developers are still experimenting with what works and what doesn't.
Here's my totally personal and therefore subjective take on what I think is holding back VR the most right now:
- Cost of entry (hardware and game prices)
- Lack of "blockbuster" games
- Setup (clearing the room for roomscale experiences, cabling, etc.)
- Comfort (all headsets get uncomfortable after a while)
- Motion sickness (for some people and some games/experiences)
I considered putting image quality on this list too. But while I think image quality definitely needs to (and, over the next couple of years, definitely will) improve, I think it's the least of VR's problems.
Yes, you have some "screen door effect" on the Rift and Vive (less so on the PSVR), the PSVR's (nominal) resolution is fairly low and the brightness of all headsets could be higher. But with the games I've played so far, I tend to not even notice these issues after a minute or two of gameplay.
VR games are so incredibly immersive that I tend to forget I'm even playing a game. The illusion is so perfect that I instinctively navigate my arms around virtual obstacles, like the hills or buildings in Final Approach. I feel like I'm in the game and not looking at a screen that's displaying the game, and the hand controllers increase immersiveness even more.
I think the biggest achievement of VR is that it removes a layer of abstraction, much like touch on smartphones and tablets removes the layer of abstraction inherent to a mouse and a keyboard. And with this loss of abstraction comes the loss of the sense that you're looking at something "artificial" and that you need to use unnatural devices to indirectly manipulate the environment you're seeing.
Instead, you feel like you're manipulating this alternate reality directly and the fact that you're still seeing this reality through a (pair of) screen(s) fades away after a while. Additionally, since you're completely isolated inside the VR headset, whatever graphics quality you're seeing quickly becomes the new normal due to a lack of immediate reference. It's more like that when you pop back into reality when you take off the headset, you think, at least for a second or two, how high-res, but ultimately dull true reality is.
I don't know if VR will become a thing, but I sure hope it will. As enjoyable as computer games have been up to this point, they all pale in comparison to the immersiveness of VR.
VR certainly isn't for everyone or every game genre. But it's interesting - and speaks volumes to how much we're still fumbling around in the dark when it comes to VR - how genres you think would lend themselves best to VR (like ego shooters) aren't ideal when you actually play them, but genres you wouldn't have even considered playing in VR, like jump-and-runs or real-time strategy, are in fact not just playable, but are a lot more fun as you immerse yourself in the middle of their action.
There's no doubt VR is still very much early-days and the landscape will look a lot different five years from now. I just hope VR will be able to establish itself as a viable platform and won't die an early death like 3D TV did. Given the amount of money I've spent on VR hardware and games, I'm betting on it.
I think it's safe to say that any kind of advice is usually understood as a general recommendation, one that is supposed to deliver a certain result when put into action. So most advice could probably be summarized as "Do [action] to get [result]."
But when you consider that lots of advice is just the result of the experience of the person dispensing the advice, wouldn't it be more accurate to see advice more along the lines of "This is what worked for me, your own results may vary?"
Everyone's experiences will vary based on personal, societal, economical, political, temporal and many other factors. So assuming that actions taken by one person will have the same results for any other person regardless of all these factors is pretty naive. Furthermore, how closely someone is willing and able to actually follow the advice will also have an impact on the results.
My personal formula for evaluating any kind of advice is this:
Value of advice in % = (action x accuracy x applicability)/10000
To explain: Advice is useless without action. So I multiply the action I take by how closely I follow the advice and by how applicable the advice is to my personal situation. All parameters accept values between 0 and 100, and I divide the result by 10,000 to get a percentage value.
Of course this isn't meant to be an actual mathematical formula. It's basically impossible to come up with accurate values for each parameter. But even with some "educated" guesses I think it can help make a more realistic assessment of how valuable any advice actually is to me, and adjust my expectations accordingly. At the very least it will make me think more closely about advice I receive rather than simply taking it as gospel.
Feel free to run this very advice through that same formula and share your results in the comments ;)
We should seriously get rid of the word like. I mean, it's like, it totally doesn't really mean anything anymore. It's kind of like it's only being used as, like, filler or something.
I blame Facebook, at least in part. For one, because blaming Facebook is the en-vogue thing to do these days. But also because their Like button on blog posts ranging from cat pictures to war atrocities has distorted the word's meaning to a point where nobody really seems to be quite sure what they should use it for anymore.
And it's not as if (see what I did there?) there aren't any alternatives. If you want to express that you enjoyed or appreciated something, why not just say you enjoyed it, or found it interesting
This wouldn't be a huge change for most people. You only really say you like something when, truthfully, you don't, but don't want to offend. Because if they really like something, most people will use something more enthusiastic, such as cool, great or maybe even awesome. OK, kidding about that last one. That needs to go too.
Even when it comes to the few legitimate uses of the word, there are substitutes that work just as well. Instead of saying "It's like it never happened" you can just as easily say "It's as if it never happened", or instead of "It looks a bit like a Mercedes" you could say "It looks similar to a Mercedes". See how easy that is?
By deleting like from our collective vocabulary, we wouldn't lose anything essential, but we'd gain clarity while maybe also decelerating the deterioration of the English language a bit.
iOS user: "This is so cool! But why can't I install more apps? Oh well, maybe in the next version..."
Mac user: "Fisher Price doesn't have apps either. It's a toy, stupid."
iOS user: "Cool, apps! But why can't I copy & paste? Oh well, maybe in the next version..."
Mac user: "They only invented copy and paste in the late 1960s, so it'll eventually trickle down to your little toy there."
iOS user: "Cool, copy & paste! But why isn't there multitasking? Oh well, maybe in the next version..."
Mac user: "Today I googled how to make quiche while burning a DVD, printing a 66-page dissertation, downloading a 3 GB software update and listening to a podcast with iTunes. What did you do?"
iOS user: "Cool, multitasking! But why can't apps talk to each other better? Oh well, maybe in the next version..."
Mac user: yawn
A couple of years later...
iOS user: "Cool, extensions! But why can't I see multiple apps at the same time? Oh well, maybe in the next version..."
Mac user: "You mean you don't have windows? Even Windows has those."
iOS user: "Cool, split view! iOS is really getting serious! With all these features and an external keyboard, I can be so much more productive!"
Mac user: "Welcome to desktop computing, bro."