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When products play hide-and-seek with serial numbers

I recently bought a set of PowerBeats Pro, which I generally love (more on the headphones in a future post), but today, while trying to register my product with Beats, I ran into a clear example of form trumping function.

To register your Beats, you need the serial number; Beats provides a graphic that shows you where to find it…

Seems simple enough, so I flip open the case…

Umm, where is that serial number?

Even wearing my usual glasses, I just barely spotted the smudge of silvery-gray-black near the top edge of the case. I put on a pair of 2x reading glasses, and in the light where I took the above photo, I still couldn't read much, though I could make out a few characters.

As an added test, I gave the case to my daughter, who has 20/20 vision. She put it really close to her face, squinted a bit, and was able to read the characters in the serial number…though she did get one of them wrong.

I moved the case under a desk lamp, set the iPhone camera's to 2x, forced the flash to on, and took another pic…

Finally! Using zoom on the iPhone, I was able to use the above photo to read my serial number. But why did they make this so difficult?

If they'd just used a whiter and slightly larger font, it would have been easily readable, at least with my glasses…but that would have distracted from the aesthetic of the case—and we can't have that!

Note: There's a much easier way to get the serial number for your PowerBeats Pro—and thanks to @b3_john on Twitter for this one
On your iOS device, with the PowerBeats connected, go to Settings > General > About, and scroll to the bottom of the list. There you'll see an entry for your PowerBeats Pro; tap that, and a new screen displays not only the serial number but also the model number, firmware version, and hardware version.
Now why isn't this method listed on the Beats web site, at least in addition to the "no device required" solution?

OK, fine, here are some alternatives that don't impact the case aesthetic at all. They could have printed the number on the insert that comes with the case. Or on a separate piece of paper inserted into the packaging. Or encoded it in the logic in the battery case itself, so when you connect it to your Mac, it can read the serial number while on Beats' web page.

Any of those solutions would have been better than what they chose to do—if a 13-year-old with perfect vision in perfect light can just barely read the text, I would argue that your solution isn't optimal for a broad user base.

Serial numbers are not top secret information—don't turn them into a frustrating game of hide-and-seek.

4 thoughts on “When products play hide-and-seek with serial numbers”

  1. How about power specifications for an AC/DC adapter? Kinda important info, isn't it...? But it's always printed in dark grey ink on black plastic at about 6 points. Why?

  2. There is an ink shortage at Apple, easy reading is left to the Accessibility team, but not for general use on Product labels or UI. Just look at the brief printed instructions that come with a new iPhone, gray tiny text. Older non-techie customers with aging eyes are the most likely to look at this joke. iOS 13.2b2 ringer switch setting "Silent Mode" On/Off text is faint, just the thing that should be easy to see. We get OLED screens with more contrast, so Apple UI team reduces contrast. iPhone hardware is amazing, on the other hand I could write pages about the "cognitive dissonance" in iOS [finally a dragable scroll bar in iOS!]. The world is all about Inclusivity now, but Apple is Form over Function. Accessibility team does amazing stuff, but it's bolted on rather than baked in. The stupid Settings Slide Switch needs color & a 0/1 [separate setting no less] to be obvious, when a simple checkbox would be perfect. Somehow the UI team has forgotten their primary purpose, clueless in Cupertino. Sorry for my rant, you hit a nerve...

  3. In iOS you can enable the magnifier to see these things. Works great, but yeah, they shoud print this stuff in a way that can be read.

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