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Originally posted December 3 2005 at 17:12 under General. 0 Comments. 1 Trackback (now closed). Last modified: 24 March 2006 at 01:01

Telewest TV Email Broken Interface

No Longer Frustrated

I was a bit bored but couldn’t think of much to write about so I had a hunt around in the drafts for other things I got bored of writing. This stood out as I’d already taken photos of various things and I’d sort of mentioned it already. Anyway…

Until this trusty internet connection arrived in Gateshead, I was relying on communication to the outside world mainly on email performed using Telewest’s TV services. This was not a pleasant experience. So bad was it, I’m compelled to write about it, complete with pictures. Hopefully some sort of Telewest designer might stumble across this and realise what a complete mess the system is.

Infra-red keyboard

For a start I was lucky. I had available the
Telewest infra-red keyboard. Things would probably have been entirely impossible if trying to use nothing but the remote control. The keyboard is actually a roughly standard layout, with a couple of extra bits. There’s an entirely pointless reproduction of the remote’s navigational system in the upper right (the functionality of this is entirely reproduced using the cursor keys and enter—I never used that section of the keyboard once). There’s also a mysterious red plastic insert which seems to serve no function—gentle prising didn’t remove it certainly. Note that the right/left arrow keys should give Home/End functionality when used with the “Function” key (bottom left of the keyboard) but as far as I could tell that doesn’t actually work. The keys along the top (where F1, F2, etc would normally be) are at times useful. But the ones to the left of the coloured buttons, although labelled differently, seemed to more or less all do the same thing—namely bring up the Telewest “Home Screen”. One other important difference to a normal keyboard is the fact that holding down a key doesn’t cause a repeat (so, for instance, one has to keep tapping to delete several characters). It’s not that uncomfortable to use, so long as one gets a position so that it’s pointing towards the cable box.

Home ScreenAnother Screen

To access email one first enters the Home Screen (as mentioned, there are several buttons on the keyboard which achieve this aim, including TV on Demand, TV Guide and Email). The arrow keys then navigate around the various options and enter selects (not that the loading of one of the options is exactly responsive). Each option gives its own screen of further options, etc, in a way which might be expected. Selecting FreeTime and Email gets to another screen which then has an Email option to select (and pressing Email on the keyboard couldn’t get us here because…)

User SelectEnter the passcode

Having reached the email stage we then have to select the user, which is fair enough, although remember theres at least several seconds response time between Selecting the appropriate user asks for a 4 digit code (no passwords securing things here despite the use of the word in the instructions). It seems to take an age to check the code, especially if it’s wrong! Once through the security check, there is inevitably yet another screen (going through 2 screens and user selection doesn’t sound like much but believe me, it is when you’re doing it several times per day). This screen is essentially the main administration for the email. There’s no fancy folder system but there is at least a “Stored” folder to put emails you don’t want cluttering up the inbox. Settings doesn’t give anything exciting other than the ability to change the PIN. To go through each of the screens could probably take an entire website (which would certainly be more documentation than Telewest provide). Instead I’ll concentrate on the Write Email screen, which is the most frustrating. In passing though I ought to note a few other things. That screen makes it fairly obvious you can at least save things as a draft. However (you knew that was coming) it isn’t intelligent enough to realise that successive drafts are of the same email, which means you can end up with several versions of the same thing if you keep adding to a draft. Further, when displaying emails it seems to break lines at a completely different length to when writing them. But that gets carried through to when you continue to write a draft, which means it has line breaks all over the place. The same is true if you try forwarding something. There is of course no support for attachments either—but their size will mean you just get a “this email too big” message rather than being able to read any accompanying text (why the hell not just strip the attachment). Bizarrely though it will make some sort of effort to display basic HTML, which is silly and annoying. It also doesn’t quote the message when replying.

The Email Admin Screen Writing Email

On to writing an email though. Don’t expect any niceties to help you—there are none. There’s no copy, cut, paste for instance (there’s no way to select text anyway). As mentioned deleting several characters involves tapping the back key a lot. And moving around involves tapping cursor keys a lot. The first thing which one has to do is clear the message about an on screen keyboard. The delete key next to the left cursor key actually clears the contents of the box, which is useful in this case (more on this key in a moment though). There’s no address book so you’d better be able to remember email addresses by heart (I’m told an address book has been promised for several years, over several iterations of this system). Subject is then, er, subject (the up/down arrow keys get between boxes). The main message then goes in the main box, as you’d expect. Don’t make it too long though. I found to my cost that if the email gets too long it basically hangs on sending. The limit seems to be 3 or 4 paragraphs but it wasn’t obvious exactly what the limiting factor was. Page up and Down don’t work by the way. But the one, most annoying feature, is that delete key. You see, it doesn’t do what you’d expect, namely delete the character in front of the cursor. No. This just deletes the entire contents of the message box. Without warning. Yes, that’s right. Right next to one of the main navigation keys for moving around what you’re writing (which you have to keep tapping remember, because there’s no repeat) is a key which leads to immediate and serious data loss. What’s even more frustrating is that the designers thought about this in other circumstances. Selecting the Clear option (next to Save as Draft) actually gives a confirmation dialogue. Not the delete key though. If they press that, the user must really mean it. I have no idea which moron designed this, but they obviously never had the misfortune of trying to us$e it.

Delete Key

There are other things wrong with this entire system, but by now you probably get the idea. The developers are obviously restricted by the medium in which their working (and probably by a budget in which this extra isn’t a priority too). But you have to wonder if they’ve done any testing at all. Even just trying to send, receive and store a few emails over the course of a day quickly reveals some of the failings (one can forgive the multiple draft situation for instance, some might even find that a feature rather than a bug, but other things are so obvious). Anyway, thankfully I’m not dealing with that any more. Hopefully few others are. And hopefully Telewest’s merger with NTL will result in some changes for the better.

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More Broken Telewest

Not so long ago I gave a write up of the experience which is using Telewest TV based email. Turns out that on reflection it itsn't just the email interface which is broken.... [Read More]

Tracked from IMS_Blog on Dec 10, 2005 at 21:59

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This Crazy Fool

Dr Ian Scott
Croydon (and Gateshead), United Kingdom
Bullding Services Engineer (EngDesign), PhD in Physics (University of York), football fanatic (Newcastle United), open source enthusiast (mainly Mozilla)

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