User Experiences

Egg Timer

Form follows function: not the other way round.

The Egg Timer

When I first laid eyes upon this baby in a Radio Shack store, it was love. I thought that I had found the perfect amalgam of technology and usability. Now that I have had a chance to [mis]use the thing for a while, I think differently.

It’s an egg-shaped kitchen timer. It’s precise to the second. It counts up. It counts down, and you set it by turning the base. Much like my old-fashioned analog tomato timer.

The really kewl thing about it is that it’s digital, and digital, as all us geeks know, is better.

So why did I give it away, and why do I continue to use my old analog tomato timer?

Because the damn thing is difficult to use. The neat, turn-the-base setting function is non-intuitive, the display is remarkably hard to read from a distance, and the very precision that first attracted me now gets in the way.

Let me explain. The way you set the time is to turn the base, while holding the top. If you turn the base slowly, the time increments/decrements by ten seconds. If you turn it faster, the time changes by minutes. The actual position of the base doesn’t mean anything. It is the act of turning it that sets the time. To start the countdown, you set it to a time, and hit the silver button on the top. To count up, you leave the unit at zero, and hit the button. When the countdown is over, the egg beeps continuously until you press the button. On the bottom of the unit is a “Reset to zero” button. More on that in a bit.

Let me introduce you to my old tomato analog timer:

What a Tomato

It is very simple: zero to sixty in one turn. You turn it to the desired number, and put it down. When it is done, it dings a bell for about a second. If you want to time less than fifteen minutes, you need to turn it past fifteen minutes, then turn it back. This “primes” the bell. If you don’t do this, the bell won’t ring as loudly. They have increased the number of visible tick marks between zero and fifteen minutes, to one tick per minute, as they figure you’ll need a bit more precision. Above fifteen minutes, they just give one tick mark every five minutes.

Operating the Tomato

It takes me two seconds, and one turn of the wrist to set the tomato to 33 minutes.

Operating the Egg Timer

It can easily take me ten seconds to set the egg to 33 minutes.

Why is this? It is because the time is on the dial for the tomato, and there is no digital readout. You turn the dial to the point that you want. It may not be exact, but cooking is not an exact science. 30 minutes can easily become 35 minutes if your oven is a little cool, or you are using a glass dish instead of a metal one. The digital readout actually hurts in this case, because it encourages you to get to exactly 30:00 minutes. Not 30:07 or 29:40. In a real life kitchen (I cook a lot, so I can speak with authority in this area.), you don’t lose any sleep over a few seconds, or even a few minutes (except when you’re making Hollandaise Sauce, and then you don’t use a timer.)

On the other hand, with the egg, you have to make several complete turns. There is a non-inuitive threshold at which the turning of the base causes the time to increment by a minute, as opposed to ten seconds. I used the egg a lot, and I never really figured out exactly how fast you needed to turn it. This often meant that I had to turn the thing twenty full rotations before reaching my time. When I would get close to it, I’d slow down, and then slowly turn the dial until I reached my desired time. This resulted in a long, drawn-out process.

Okay, in review: One quick twist, compared to twenty-five turns of a dial and ten seconds or more. Which would you prefer?

I gave away the egg.

The egg has one more fatal flaw. On the bottom, there is a reset button. Pressing this when the timer is stopped, will reset the time to 00:00.

The Dreaded Reset Button

However, if the timer is going, holding the reset button will prevent the silver Stop/Start button from operating. It will also prevent it from operating if the timer is off, so the timer will not start when the Reset button is pressed.

Why is this a problem? Let me show you:


Face Plants:

The “simple” rotating dial actually doesn’t work the way you’d expect.

You need to “wake up” a bit, and spend higher-level brain function on keeping track of the displayed time.

The blasted thing won’t stop/start.

This is because the natural way to hold the egg timer is one finger on top, and your thumb on the bottom. This causes both the reset and the start/stop button to be pressed simultaneously, resulting in…nothing. I have watched smart people staring at the timer for over a minute, trying to figure out why it doesn’t work.

Suggested Solution:

Buy a tomato.

The problem here is that the designers tried to adapt a function to a form. BAD IDEA. This is a digital timer, and it needs a digital interface. They should have developed a form that matched the functionality.

Just for the record, here is a digital timer that actually works. It has a form that matches the function. Boring, but effective:

Setting The Digital Timer