1. Microwaves originally had analog dials. The first digital UIs were seen on fancier, high-end appliances. This made them a bit of a status symbol. Eventually, tech costs came down and everyone imitated the high-end UI.
2. Almost nobody grows up wanting to design appliance UIs. They're considered boring.
3. Removing features is hard. If you remove a feature used by 1% of your customers, and you have 10,000 customers, that's 100 angry people. They'll be much more vocal than the slightly happier 9900.
Amusingly, the cheapest microwaves are often the ones with the best interfaces. I spent $80 on something like this years ago, and I like it more than any fancy microwave. This includes the model touted by the author. Having only one knob (time) is too minimalist. I hardly ever touch the power knob, but it's occasionally necessary.
People got swayed by the iPhone 4 design in the store and bought it, then once they own it they covered it in cheap plastic to protect the glass.
The flat surface on the microwave looks great and sleek. The many functions makes the oven seem good and sophisticated. Who knows what magic this microwave does when you ask it to reheat a slice of pizza! Surely it must be better than the normal heating function! Let's get that.
Once you are home, all you want is to set the time and maybe change the power.
You know those cheesy leftovers that you ordinarily nuke for 2 minutes, and the cheesy portion ends up a gooey, steamy mess, while the rest of the dish is only slightly warm?
Try nuking it for 3 minutes, but set the power level to 60%. You'll be amazed at what a difference it makes!
P.S.: Could you imagine a Hacker News crowd-designed microwave? There'd be buttons for "Add 2^1 seconds," "Add 2^2 seconds," "Add 2^3 seconds" ...
I used to have one like that many moons ago. It also had a start button and a stop/open door button. That was perfect.
With a digital control, they'd just press 2-3-3 and Start.
Commercial microwaves typically only have a few buttons as well:
My meals have widely varying thermal capacities (chili vs a sandwich) so it's nice to have a single button to hit, to get my food uniformly hot every single time.
When I said "uniformly" I meant that each meal ends up at more or less the same, "pleasantly hot" temperature as the previous meal, irrespective of their thermal mass, because the sensor reheat runs longer or shorter for the respective meals.
Works well enough for leftovers at work ;)
The push button is "mute", illuminated when mute is enabled.
One knob is the standard toaster-oven style "twist to desired time", the other a power level knob (with minimum being a special for defrost).
Unfortunately, it's not going to happen, and for a very simple reason: cost. It costs less to do those stupid little membrane switches than discrete knobs / buttons.
My "good enough" would be separate 1s / 5s / 15s / 1m / 5m buttons. Where you press the button, it adds the time. Like how some timers work. And a dedicated mute button, and easy indication of if you are muted.
Thanks for the insightful comments, all.
On a side note, my UI Design professor gave the microwaves as an example of a frequently bad UI. He had a theory for this: that customers also preferred more features. As in, when buying a microwaves, it could be tempting to choose one with 10~15 over one with 2 or 3.
That was just a theory, though - no studies whatsoever involved. I have never shopped for domestic appliances myself, so I don't know what I'd be tempted to buy.
etc etc, That said, the inverter technology in the panasonics are worth paying for... not to mention that they do have tactile buttons and a knob...
- heats food for the duration you want and power level you want
- thaws food
- warms pizza
- makes popcorn
- boils water in a cup
I wish that sort of thing was made more prominent on the packaging.