Technology Although there was some publicity a few weeks ago regarding the installation by McDonalds of Wi-fi nodes in their restaurants so that people could us their laptops to log-on while their tucking into a Big Mac, it wasn't mentioned that they would be installing terminals in their restaurants as well. But that's what's been happening both in Liverpool and Manchester and last night even though I'm on a diet I wanted to check my email so I decided to test the service.

Tokens are picked up during the meal order. They're small piece of not quite card / not quite paper, red with the yellow McDonalds Arcs, and had been ready printed. The system is similar to that in operation at the 'easyeverything' chain for a few years. Here the cost is £1 for half and hour, £2 for an hour. I decided to try using the service with a meal, so duly ordered a Big Mac Meal. For a 'medium' I seemed to get a hell of a lot of fries.

The internet terminal consists of an 17" LCD touchscreen with in a wooden frame. The keyboard is the metal design familiar to anyone who has used the BT Broadband callboxes, but here lacks the trackball. As with 'easyeverything' the user enters the code number (in this case using a e-pad on the screen) and then access is granted. Rather than being on ordinary tables, the terminals are set into wall facing bars in a corner of the restaurant (and I use the term loosely) and ordinary chair level.

Which all sounds simple enough. Until you actually try to do anything. Without the trackball, the user is left to move the pointer around the screen with their finger. Because the screen is set to 1024x768 the boxes are very small so it takes several attempts to select the Address box. The keyboard barely registers key presses so tabbing is out of the question. It then takes many tries to get the URL in. I eventually managed to get Google in. It only then I notice the small keyboard icon in the corner of the screen. Clicking this brought up a keyboard on the touch screen, which was easier to use. Just. Facing the viewer head on it still look some time to type anything.

Search for Metafiler which Google duly finds. Clicking through brings up an error saying the page is blocked for 'security reasons'. Try Vodkabird and it says that it couldn't download it due to errors. I manage to get the BBC site to work after a couple of tries. By now I'm ten minutes into my credit and I haven't even looked at anything. Try Fark as a joke, and despite the slightly dodgy links (content wise) on the front page, it appears. Then I tried to scroll. Because of the screen resolution the right hand scroll bar is very slim and the down arrow tiny. And very close to the wooden frame. So the only way to scroll is to use your little finger and even then it's hardly adequate. Plus the screen is greasy… there is an answer for why most of this doesn't work.

THIS IS MCDONALDS! Who but the Hamburgler could think that putting Internet terminals in a burger restaurant would be a good idea? The keyboard is flat and metal to stop spillages getting into the works. But that means its impossible to work and it had obviously been given a wipe over because it was the gunk which was making the keys unresponsive. For some reason the keyboards are mounted at the back of the table, behind the keyboard so it's almost impossible to see which keys you're using let alone actually be able to reach the back ones.

There is nowhere to put your meal. If you're going to have terminals in a restaurant, surely half the point is that people are going to eat while they surf. But the space between the terminals is only big enough to fit one of their brown trays. It's also fairly obvious they don't clean the touchscreens as often as the tables, so the grease from my fingers from my burger and fries will have been mixing with everyone else's quite nicely and unhygenically. And collecting in the edges of the screen in the wooden frame, obviously put there for it's aesthetic value rather than to aid the user paying £2 an hour.

They also obviously haven't considered The Megan Factor. From the early days McDonald's ad campaigns and marketing strategies have been geared towards attracting children. Brightly coloured screens with the McDonald's logo are like actually giving candy to a baby. Megan, is a three year old who sitting on the terminal next to me. Before you get visions of some wunderkinder looking up stock market details at the 'Bloomberg' site, this little monster seems happy to prod menacingly at the touchscreen making the token entry e-pad appear and disappear. And when she gets bored with that just starts hitting away at it with her fist until 'page not displayed' appears and she becames disinterested. In the mean time, rocking the tray with my meal on back and forth, nearly knocking my Coke over when she falls off her chair.

She is one of five kids who have been brought over by a mother. As far as I can gather only three of them were hers. The other two had been brought out in the car. And Megan wouldn't be brought out in the car anymore unless they BEHAVED. I heard this five times. And Megan's name at least fifty. Which is why I will remember it for the rest of my life. Her big sister is using the terminal next door while the other three, of assorted nursery school age dash about amongst the tables and terminals. As I'm trying to do anything on the terminal I'm using I can hear the mother saying 'You've spelt S-Club wrong.' I then find out the terminals have speakers which really work because she go to some Japanese cartoon website and decides to play a racing game which consists of nothing but engine noises.

After all this I gave up after fifteen minutes, wolfed down the rest of my food and dashed out of the restaurant. As I exited the terminal told me I would keep the time on my token to the nearest five minutes. Joy. Really be using that then. Usually in a review like this you might suggest ways that things could be improved. I could say that the majority of the terminals might be at stool level, a trackball could be install and the touch screen be part of the usual cleaning regimen. But frankly I can't be bothered. This is the worst idea thought of by anyone at anytime, and after the initial try-me phase deserves to die a very slow death. Mcdonalds is apparently in trouble, closing some outlets and not opening new ones at the rate they once were. It's lame brained ideas like this one that can only accelerate their downfall.

No comments:

Post a comment