3 Myths of Smart TV Development

AdobeStock_106742253Text.png

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.

Three Watch Development Myths

watchdevelopmentmyths

As I have been developing applications for smart watches for some time now and reading the prevailing literature on design principles, I have come to believe a number of the prevailing design recommendations foolishly hamper our creative vision with these innovative devices.  I will analyze these “myths” one by one.

Myth 1 – Lightweight Interactions:

In Apple’s words, smartwatch applications should be “designed for quick interactions.”  In its latest incarnation, the Gear S3 from Samsung begins to state a different case: that smartwatch users want to leave their phones in their pocket.  I believe Samsung to be right.  In my both my use and design of smartwatch, I find the watches to be extremely powerful devices that are both fun to use and productive in nature.  A well designed app can not only present the available information otherwise stored on the phone, but enable large amounts of interaction with a small wrist movement and a few touches.  So, I disagree with the basic principle that smartwatch applications should provide limited and quick interactions.  Even companies are starting the notice how they can increase productivity with the proper application. 

Myth 2 – UI should be limited and large:

Many smartwatch applications present screens with few buttons and limited interaction per scene. And in many situations this does make sense because there is limited screen area.  However, the touch sensitivity of the watches is incredible.  On both the Samsung Gear S2 and S3 we have successfully tested 15 different buttons on a screen at one time with a high degree of accuracy.  So while I agree that simple and larger is often times better, I don’t believe we should limit our creative design for those situations where more makes sense — and keeps the phone in the pocket.

Myth 3 –  Use the crown for app interaction:

Both Apple and Samsung provide developers access to the watch crown.  While it may make sense in limited situations to use the crown, I do not believe it should be often or even provide a necessary or inherent app function.  Spinning the crown on both devices require the use of two fingers and takes away from the natural one finger interaction with the watch.  Now I get it…using the crown is cool and fun.  And in the right kind of application, especially those that value fun above productivity, it makes sense to use the crown.  But just because it is there, does not mean we should use it when we could design for the task with a simple tap, flick, or swipe.

Why Not ABC Alphabetical Arrangement for Keyboards?

This is a question that comes up on Quora from time to time, and I think it’s a fascinating study.

Why NOT put the letters of a typewriter in alphabetical order?

The most basic answer is that language does not work that way. Even though we might easily learn a keyboard that follows the alphabet, we couldn’t use it easily because when we are thinking of the next letter of a word, we are NOT thinking about where that letter is in the alphabet. So even though it is in some ways convenient to have B next to C next to D, those letters rarely follow each other in any word (except maybe ABRACADBRA).

We actually tried an alphabetical arrangement in Modality, but it just didn’t work. It was much too confusing. Over time, we remembered that an alphabetical arrangement is what to the old Speak & Spells we used to have when I was a kid. Those Speak & Spells were fine for learning language and spelling, but not for productivity.

Specifically, the idea of Qwerty, invented by Christopher Latham Sholes, was to evenly distribute left and right hand usage. This was meant to help prevent jamming of the keys on the old typewriters. Some people say that Qwerty was meant to slow us down, but I haven’t personally been able to verify that. I still wonder why a common letter like E should not be on home row but J should be, but that doesn’t mean that Qwerty was meant to slow us down.

In any event, an alphabetical arrangement really doesn’t work, and so something else that makes sense for fingers on keys really needs to come in. Qwerty has not only stood the test of time but has actually won in many typing competitions, so I have to concur that it is a solid system.

But whatever we use, alphabetical doesn’t really seem to help.

 

speakandspell

What Is Modality?

Modality is the productivity app that will save you hours of time.

The fact is that a ten-finger typing system does not work on one-thumb or one-finger devices. It ESPECIALLY doesn’t work on watches.

Now there is a solution for Apple, Android and Samsung Gear watches. You can learn the basic structure in ten minutes and start saving yourself hours within the month. Our data has shown users going 66% percent faster than with the traditional QWERTY system.

Here are some awesome videos we made:

Typing Like It’s the 1800’s?

Type on your Watch