Upgrading to Worse / by Erin Wade

I'm no fan of doing my taxes, but I've long found that process to be made significantly less painful using Turbo Tax. I've used the software most of the years I've done taxes probably since the late 1990's, originally on whatever desktop or laptop I had at the time; since 2011 I've been using Turbo Tax on my iPad. 

While I've always found the software to be pretty decent (something that can't always be said about Intuit's products), there was something special about doing it on the iPad. It was clear that they'd thought thru the interface and optimized it for touch - it was no half-assed desktop port. In addition, anyone who does their own taxes knows that it involves shuffling a lot of documents back and forth. This is easier, somehow, when the device you are interacting with isn't chained to a desk. Plus it made it easier to use the desktop computer for reference (for scanned receipts, spreadsheets, and the like).

So - while I don't love doing my taxes, I do enjoy interacting with well designed software, and this took the sting out of having to sit down and interact with my W-2's. I opened up the App Store on my iPad, did a search for the Turbo Tax app, and downloaded so I could get started. 

It was immediately clear that things were different. 

First, it was locked in portrait orientation. I had hoped that this was just for initially opening the program up, after which it would move to allowing landscape, but alas, no; Portrait until the cows came home (which they never did  - I don't have any cows). Data entry on the iPad's portrait keyboard is something significantly less than stellar. 

The first thing it asked for - in portrait orientation - was a login. Prior versions of this app have always asked for the password from the previous year, after which it then imports information from the prior year's app. This significantly streamlines data entry for information that doesn't often change - home address, names and identifying information for family members, etc. 

This year it asked for my username and password. This was somewhat confusing, as my records don't show a username, and when I looked at last year's app, there's not even a place to enter such a thing. So I made a couple of educated guesses - which failed - before shamefully clicking the link admitting that I'd forgotten my username and/or password. 

Except that I hadn't. 

Instead of using the information from the prior year, it took me to Intuit's website to make an account - a new account. 

The splash screen that the app shows when it opens up talks about doing your taxes on any of your devices, with generic pictures of a tablet, a laptop, etc, standing side by side in supposed harmony. This was the harbinger of the craptastic experience that followed. It quickly became clear that what Intuit had done this year was to ditch their entire prior software model and essentially make the iPad app (and, one assumes, all of the other versions of the app as well) a front end for their website. This would be fine, I suppose, if it worked well. 

It does not. 

With this new approach, one first learns that the app will not be accessing data from prior years. All of your demographic information and vital statistics have to be re-entered. In portrait orientation. This significantly extends the time that one spends doing the lovely activity of preparing one's taxes, and the suck did not end there. 

Because it is now just a front end for the website, the app apparently keeps very little information actually on the device. This means that, when one's internet connection gets hinky, or if Intuit's website is having problems, the app simply stops working. No more data entry, no more tax advice, no more nothing. For me this happened a few times through the process, most notably at the end when I was about ready to submit, at which point it told me Intuit's website was unavailable (but their engineers were aware and "hard at work" solving the problem). Heaven help you if you are doing your taxes on April 15 using this app and Comcast experiences an outage. 

And then we get to this:

No - I most certainly do not want to leave the app and go to your crappy browser, but since I need to file my taxes you've got me by the short hairs.  

No - I most certainly do not want to leave the app and go to your crappy browser, but since I need to file my taxes you've got me by the short hairs.  

Here's a hint to Intuit, and to all other app developers:  the moment your app requires me to leave the software and go to a web browser to do *anything* it has failed. This is a clear indication that you've half-assed your product.

As a bonus, I also use Mint.Com to keep track of my accounts. I actually moved to Mint to get away from the suck that Quicken had become several years ago, only to have Intuit then buy Mint. What I soon discovered was that Intuit had decided I also wanted to change my password for Mint when I created the account to do my taxes (umm - no, I did not). 

None of this would be so painful if the prior versions of the software had not been so very much better. Using this god-awful product this year was like having years of mornings where scrambled eggs and bacon are there for breakfast, and then suddenly walking in and being handed a single piece of dry white toast. 

Not that I'm bitter. 

  Tags: , ,