Over half of all devices at this year’s CES, the world’s largest consumer electronics trade show, were Internet connected devices. Nearly 60% of those were non-traditional computing devices such as TVs, car devices, refrigerators and washing machines. In fact 90% of the TVs at CES were Internet-enabled.
As more and more devices in your home get connected to the Internet, the user experience becomes increasingly important. It’s hard enough to use your PC sometimes, let alone fiddle with the remote on your Internet connected TV! So over the coming months we’ll be exploring the world of User Experience design (a.k.a. UX design). We’ll be interviewing UX experts and reviewing products that get it right – and some that get it wrong. We’ll start by looking at how the user experience of televisions is becoming more interactive and what this will mean to your TV consumption habits.
The main UX issue with TVs has traditionally been the remote control. It’s typically a device with many buttons and – if you’re anything like me – you probably don’t even know what some of those buttons do. That’s not your fault, it’s a user experience failure of TV manufacturers.
As the likes of Samsung and Sony add even more content to their TVs, via the Internet, it makes no sense to add even more buttons to the remote. The solutions are twofold: make use of other, more natural, UI controls (in particular gestural); and personalize the TV for each user.
In a session at UX Week 2011 last August, Brian Stone from Ohio State University noted that up till now, TV manufacturers have mostly been concerned with hardware improvements: bigger screens, new types of displays (the latest trend being OLED), 3-D, and so on. He argued that what’s really required with Internet TV is improvements in user experience. That’s because on the Internet, people interact with content and applications a lot more than they do with traditional TV programming.
One solution is to introduce more gestural interactions. Stone showed a project he set up around fantasy football, which used a gestural interface to try and “reduce things to a very simple palette of interactions.” [see 7:30 onwards in the video above for a demo]. Indeed, TV manufacturers are already introducing these features. Samsung’s new line of smart TV sets feature voice and gesture control, as well as facial recognition.
Another way to make the Internet TV user experience better is to personalize it. Stone showed a project that presented content personalized to the user, allowing them to interact with the TV via their smartphone, tablet, Wii remote or the gestural UI of Xbox Kinect. The navigation in that example was personalized, presenting only channels that the user frequently watches. It also gave her suggestions for relevant content. [see 9:30 mark onwards in the video above]
It’s not just TV controls and navigation that will need to improve for Internet TVs to become a success. An increasingly important part of Internet TVs will be the apps that you access on it. Whether they are existing examples like Facebook and Twitter, or new apps built specifically for TV usage, app designers have to get the “10-foot user experience” right (the typical distance between a user and their TV).
In upcoming posts we’ll explore specific examples of UX design in TVs, as well as a myriad of other Internet connected devices. A great user experience is key to success in this new connected world. You only need to look at Apple for proof of that!