Palm’s amazingly user-hostile sign-up process

Just today I received a shiny new Palm Pre 2. Now Palm WebKit is notoriously underrepresented in my mobile research because up until now I didn’t have a device (except for a short and unhappy period in early 2010). Besides, webOS is the only OS that can give iOS a run for its money UX-wise. Reason enough to study it carefully.

Before being allowed to actually use the phone, though, I had to go through a user sign-up process that’s so amazingly hostile that I decided to record my adventures in the faint hope that someone at Palm will read it and make changes.

First of all, why do you need to sign up for stuff before being allowed to do anything else? No OS I know makes such a point of this as webOS does. Android can be pretty insistent, too, but the process is far easier. And it isn’t actually required, just strongly advised.

In order to start using the phone, no sign up should be mandatory. If you want to purchase an app, sure. If you want to sync your contacts to the cloud, sure. But not just to be able to do anything at all.

But anyway. I knew this, and gritted my teeth for it. I had an old Palm user account left from a year ago, but couldn’t remember the password. Obviously. When the process asked for it I gave one of my series of passwords and hoped for the best.

It was the wrong password. Two things emerged:

  1. The phone didn’t actually have a data connection. After about a minute(!) it noticed this and asked me to fill in my operator’s APN details.
  2. The process does not allow you to try several passwords. The first one has to be correct right away, or you go into a totally different logic loop.

The connection thing is weird. I mean, why start the sign-up process if there’s no way of communicating with the Palm servers? Besides, why do I need to give in the APN information at all? I used my Vodafone SIM card in several phones, and I had to do this only once (BlackBerry Torch? Not sure any more.) All others just recognise the SIM card and connect; no hassle involved.

But anyway, I found the APN details from my operator under a stack of papers. The first time I tried the phone rejected my settings. WTF? I almost gave up, but decided to try once more. Lo and behold, it worked. Why didn’t it work initially? And why does it take so effing long to give me any feedback whatsoever? I mean, the 3G connection either works or it doesn’t. Right away.

Besides, why not turn wifi on out of the box? That way there’s always a data connection available. (I could not turn it on manually because I hadn’t finished the sign-up process yet.)

Back to the password. “Forgot password.” Yup, seems about right. I tapped it, and nothing happened for, I don’t know, 10 seconds or so. I tapped it several times more. Then the phone let me know it had sent a mail to the address I’d provided. Several times. Once for each time I tapped the button, I suppose.

This mail never arrived. It’s been two hours now, and it still hasn’t arrived. It will likely never arrive.

Secret question. I didn’t remember having filled one in, but apparently so. I gave the answer that I think was right, but it was rejected. Possibly because of case-sensitivity? The question really allowed for only one answer. (OK, I admit I may have originally answered in English instead of in Dutch.)

I decided to break off my attempts at resurrecting my old account and create a new one. Next problem: there is no way of going a few steps back. You are where you are, and if you don’t do everything absolutely correctly you’re not allowed to go anywhere else. Not forward. Not back, either.

Remove battery and start all over again. Will the average user know this trick?

I created a new user account, with a new password I hope I’ll remember, a new secret question (well, actually the same as before, with the answer I thought was correct), and it worked.

My God what a hassle. And 90% of it totally unnecessary.

I received a mail that asks me to verify my new profile, but to be honest I don’t dare to click on the link. Something might break yet again. Besides, I got access to the app store and downloaded two free apps, without verification.

Dear Palm, please take steps to significantly reduce the sheer stress involved in getting one of your devices to work. webOS is all beautiful and stuff, but if you’re never allowed to actually use it unless you’re hyper-intelligent and super-persevering (that’s me!), people will never notice.

This is the blog of Peter-Paul Koch, mobile platform strategist, consultant, and trainer. You can also follow him on Twitter.
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