02 May 2011

What Hitachi can learn from Apple

When it comes to most consumer electronic devices, I have always believed that if a product requires a manual to operate, then it still has a long way to go. Apple products have minimal reading material in their packaging because they believe that their user experience is natural and self explanatory.
Makes a ton of sense...should be easy to implement right? Not quite. As it turns out, this new Hitachi room AC that we got this summer, drives home the point quite effectively.

Since the time we got this thing, I have been quite baffled by its over the top complexity of operation. Its like some Japanese Hitachi engineers saw this thing and went over the - 'We have? No Tanukasa' routine many times over. The result? We have an over-complicated AC which is excellent in doing its core job but with all these functions, features and buttons making the overall experience less than desirable.

So how complex can one make an AC?  Hit the break to read more.

Working modes - 7 of them

For starters it has a total of 7 working modes. The usuals - Auto Power saver, Cool mode, Dry mode, Fan mode, and the unsuals. There is this completely unnecessary Powerful mode where the AC runs at full fan speed for 30 min flat with no user control. The idea being you come home panting from 45 degrees outside and you get your room chilled quickly. Guess what, if I am in that state, playing around with the remote and figuring out AC modes is at the bottom of my to-do list at that time.

And then there is this Kaimin mode which has been explained in the manual with the help of a step graph. This genius mode would automatically increase the set temp by 1 degree every hour to save power. Boring.

The best is saved for the last - the Auto climate technology mode. You can actually enter the area code of your city (as per a table given in the manual), the current time and whether you want to run it in hot/very hot or humid mode via your remote and the ac would automatically set the temp and the fan speed. Makes any sense to you? Me neither.

Setting Timers
Hang on, there is more technology coming your way. You can set the current local time via your remote and then set a separate Off and On timer by entering the exact time. So basically, you can have your AC switched off at 2 AM in the night and switch it back on at 5AM.

Now this one is a handy feature to have, but it suffers badly from complex setup procedures. This not only keeps the average consumer away, but also leaves them with no simple off timer which can be set by entering the number of hours, which we all had figured out how to do.

RemoCon: (That's the trademarked name of their remote!)
This 'convenient ergonomically designed RemoCon' is everything but that. Its huge, has an array of haphazardly placed buttons and has a backlight which needs to be pressed every 10 seconds to keep it working. The only face saver here is that it has great range and the fact that some of the useless buttons are covered under a flap as indicated in the picture. (BTW, did you notice how the buttons have been marked in no perceivable order in this picture straight out of the manual)

Users today want simple devices with intuitive design and experiences. There is a fine balance between giving user choice and handling stuff automatically in the background - and its a crucial decision which needs to be made by a user experience expert and not an engineer. Keeping your product focused on some key features also helps in marketing it in a much better way. Imagine things like the Kaimin mode, which might be great technology, but is simply not usable because its too complex and users just don't need it.

Though in different industries, Hitachi could surely benefit by taking a leaf out of Apple's design handbook in this regard.


  1. Too funny. I found this while searching for the manual how to use the AC in my hotel room in India. I have the same remote in my room. Do you have a soft copy of the manual? I still haven't found it.

  2. Lol... 3 years I am still looking for a softcopy of this Hitachi remote!!

  3. Yeah same story.... i just use 3 buttons
    1. On/Off
    2. Mode
    3. Temperatur up/down

    and surely,... backlight which needs to be pressed every 10 seconds to keep it working

  4. No question about it. Hitachi ACs are a user experience failure. The RemoCon requires me to set up the time before using the AC and it frequently forgets/resets the time, forcing me to set it up all over again before I can start the cooling!

  5. I want hitachi remort operation manual

  6. Even the cooling is sub optimal i feel at times. Too many modes. Cooling Auto mode at 25 degrees does great job for me. And tht on off timer is good. And Kaimin is innovative lets give the credit where its due.

  7. Kaimin button should be swapped with auto swing button.

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