Myth 1: Use Grids, Grids and More Grids
I have been designing Smart Television apps for some time. Anybody who has done the same will see that a number of the sdks for smart televisions ship with grid templates. Apple, in their interface guidelines for Apple TV, tells us we should, when possible, default to grids.
Ok, so grids often makes sense in audio or visual apps to display content. But here is the problem: to get your choice, you often have to click an arrow so many times, that by the time you get to your content, you are a bit annoyed.
I say, sometimes, take function over form. An example — let’s say we want a video that is 15 deep in a grid. That is, it takes a user 15 clicks to get there.
Now, consider an alternative — a table view with thumbs, and readable names, split vertically down the middle, eight to a side. Is it as pretty? A good designer should be able to handle it.
And now the bonus: the user gets to their choice with only two clicks on the remote: “1” then “5” for 15 rather than the 15 arrows used to navigate. I rarely see smart television apps that do this, but I believe, in the right situation, the user would thank you.
Myth 2: Design for Lowest Common Denominator
Let’s face it, a number of Smart TV’s are not so smart, especially those first and second generation ones. Because of this, a number of app developers indicate that we should design for these lowest common denominator televisions.
I disagree, and perhaps being an owner of both an older smart television, as well as a newer more powerful television, gives me some perspective.
On the older device, it takes forever, frankly, to do anything. On the new televisions, once I get to my choice, the app executes crisply. However, because the app is still designed for the older televisions, I have to go through many more steps just to get to my choice.
Look, these apps on the older televisions are going to perform poorly anyway. Meanwhile, more and more truly “smart” televisions are sold every year.
I say, make your app perform seamlessly on the new televisions, and so long as the app “works”, even if a bit more slowly on the older televisions, those users are already used to a slow app anyway.
Let’s make at least some (read: most) users happy as opposed to having everyone annoyed.
Myth 3: Smart television apps are for A/V content.
Ok, smart televisions are audio and visual devices, so it makes sense to design apps where these primary features shine.
However, I think we limit ourselves when thinking this way.
In this tech age, productivity is king. I wonder what we could develop if we opened the boundaries. For example, would a business man actually relax a bit more if he knew that his television would tell him an important message came in from a predefined priority sender?
There are sdks that allow smart phones to communicate with smart televisions. And in almost every other app I have seen, this communication is used solely to manipulate the television app.
But what if the communication went to the productivity side and went both ways? What would be possible then?
I think a whole frontier of possibilities.
In short, I think we are limiting ourselves when these Smart TV’s open a whole world of possibility. Let’s stop thinking, “This is the way a TV works,” and instead start from a place of imagining what a TV could do. I think that both developers and users will all have a more pleasant experience that way. Besides, we will all have that experience more quickly than we would if we just sort of stumble upon and roll into things as they come.