My friend Brian Palmer who publishes the excellent and entertaining WashingMachinePost is well into a very thorough review of the new Garmin 705 hardware you should be reading. This morning he emailed me asking what all the MotionBased fuss was about... worried perhaps that I was headed towards the book repository with a sniper rifle. I'm sure he didn't expect all this.
I didn't religiously fact check my dates, reading back through email history is likely to trigger an embolism, but I'm confident I'm not substantially distorting the time line.
MotionBased was originally an independent company that created a web-based application to store, analyze and map ride data from GPS devices like those from Garmin. Initially they were nimble, creative and quick to incorporate feedback in a rapidly evolving product... typical behavior for a startup.
MB, like so many mash-up Web 2.0 startups (combining data with Google Maps) was initially a free service, the limitation being only your last ten activities would be stored in their database. That couldn't fly for long with users or business viability, so they created an enhanced subscription service that would allow users to see all of their historic data. That's what I paid for with an annual suscription with the expectation that features, and work flow on the service would improve. The usability issues I highlighted in my latest post have been in the product since I first joined and even the most junior interaction designer/usability engineer would identify them immediately.
Unfortunately its still typical for software projects to proceed without experienced interaction design, and the result is usually the same, hard-to-use mess of developer excess. Like you hired a plumber and they came in and ran the pipes outside the walls (in your living space). As a mac person you can appreciate the average person doesn't think like a software developer.
Garmin took notice and acquired the promising MB product (and dev team) at which point development seemed to slow appreciably. Perhaps the dev team had cut some corners in architecting the underlying platform to move rapidly. I believe the database and schema were ill-suited to scale up to meet the usage demands.
Third quarter 2007 Garmin announced a new service called Connect would replace MB, initially for new devices, eventually for all legacy fitness devices like the Edge 305. It's my understanding the dev team behind this is still the MB dev team. I'm guessing they'd come to the realization that it was easier to start afresh with a properly architected database than try to salvage the MB repository.
MB, despite protestations to the contrary has always been an amateurish outfit when it came to customer communication. Again I suspect the developer led company saw little need for "marketing types" early on and never brought in the necessary experience to avoid the gaffs that would follow. MB thinks that a terse email posted to the MB forum once every four months is sufficient communication and perhaps it would be if they were still a little startup with a handful of users enjoying a free service.
Towards the end of 2007 MB finally committed to dates for the legacy device support. I recall a February cutover for the Edge 305. That never happened and the date was pushed back to May. May of course slipped to September. Again with terrible, inadequate justification and communication "We need more time to make Connect be the best it can be" There's only so many times you can borrow money from a friend and not pay it back. They keep asking, when it suits them, for more time... like a college kid asking a prof over and over for extensions when the term paper is due.
Since you've not been through the complete cycle of disappointment, missed release promises and continuing usability friction, it's normal for you to look at the service in a more positive "first" light. Unfortunately, Garmin has plenty of apologists (not suggesting you're one of them, a Scot is culturally incapable of that unless we're talking football) that show up on the forums. "I've been using my Garmin Edge 705 for two weeks and Connect has worked perfectly the two times I've used it"
It belittles the feedback they've got from long term users and the forums are sprinkled with insightful comments that should have been incorporated. Add to that the defensive nature of the support personnel and forum admins and you get a picture of an insular team that still hasn't heard the penny drop. Garmin, with all its resouces needs to hire a world-class design team to improve usability. They need to hire better communication people to put out a consistent professional message and most importantly they need seasoned Product Management to prioritize and release on schedule.
Finally it pisses me off to no end because this is what I do for a living and I understand all the players, the competing priorities, the culture, the technical limitations and the games that are played at customer expense. Whether we're talking enterprise software (Ariba, in my case), Operating Systems (Vista) or MotionBased/Connect there's just no excuse for continuously getting the basics wrong.
Chase a new feature instead of fixing the core interactions all users endure. Wrong.
Promise a date for a new service and let it slip again, and again. Wrong.
Compound the lousy customer experience with an ill-timed "your subscription has expired communication". Wrong.
I feel better now ;-)
Note: I don't want to paint all developers with the same brush. My dev team is very conscious of the user experience and I'd bet any one of them could start in cold and fix the worst MB offenses within 30 days. I only wish we could put that boast to the test.