Archive for January 28th, 2011

GoogleTV: Nightmare on a Remote Street

I never had anything good to say about GoogleTV 1.0. The UI sucks, the content is lacking, and it’s throughout inconsistent. But I think that my biggest peeve of all is its various remote control incarnations. I mean, look at this mess: 1, 2, 3, 4. They’re over the top, with many more buttons that I would personally like shoved in 5 remotes, let alone 1.

My biggest problem in these remotes is the TWO d-pads. They let you move with the one or the other, but they also allow you to confirm with them, only that it won’t carry through your action, because the focusing of that d-pad was at different position in the screen than the other d-pad, resulting in clicking the WRONG thing. Sure, sure, Google TV is still a 1.0 product. But THIS specific UI problem should have been fixed with a firmware update within the first few weeks. All it requires is to synchronize the two d-pad positions on the screen, so they focus on the same widget when one or the other is moved. Maybe there are some edge cases where the current behavior is needed in Chrome/Flash, but for everything else, this creates a major usability issue — especially for users who are accustomed to gaming controls (where you move your character with the left thumb, but you confirm/fire with the right). This is the No1 reason why I don’t even turn ON our GoogleTV anymore: I keep pressing the wrong controls!

What I need instead is a simple, elegant design. I do hope that GoogleTV redesigns their whole UI, but along with it creates a new Bluetooth remote like in my mockup below:

Until then, I will continue using the Roku, although I would certainly move to my Apple TV (which we currently use only for music), if Apple was to allow content providers to create their own “channels”, like Roku does. Preferably with the same UI for every channel, for consistency. But so far, the Roku, despite its simpler and dumber software, delivers a better overall experience than Google’s or Apple’s TV devices.

Vimeo for example, has a real, full-featured application on the Roku, while the web-based versions of Vimeo CouchMode/Youtube Leanback on GoogleTV suck goats because of the unnatural usability created by the web browser that’s used to deliver them (instead of having a binary app to fit perfectly in the usability of your device’s overall UI and remote control) — while AppleTV does not even allow third party apps/channels. For example, when I hit the “Menu” button, I want to see the menu for Vimeo or Youtube, not Chrome’s menu. Jeez. I guess you can say that I absolutely hate web apps on my TV. Every web app I’ve seen so far on GoogleTV (MSNBC, HBO, Blip, etc etc), is terrible UI-wise, does not fit with the overall UI and remote control buttons, does not correspond to its own “menu”, they’re all inconsistent with each other, and some are very difficult to use (parts of the HBO web app are almost impossible to use without a *real* mouse).

Cord Cutting: A matter of laziness

We cut off cable TV from our home 1.5 months ago, and as you may know, we’re very happy that we have done so. We get all the programming we need via on-demand services, and occasionally we get our regular programming via an interior TV antenna.

However, according to this documentary, where a few families were tasked to spend a week with one of these little geek media devices (Boxee, AppleTV, Roku, GoogleTV etc), cord cutting was not as easy for them as it was for us.

The problems they encountered mainly were, in order:
1. No live TV.
2. Most reality/kids/news/talk/etc programs aren’t available on-demand.
3. Confusing user interfaces.
4. Long buffering times.
5. Hardware setup & configuration issues.

These are legitimate issues. None of these devices has live TV, they don’t even feature the “free” network channels. None of these devices shows live news, or has non-primetime shows on demand. Except the AppleTV, it’s true that the rest of the user interfaces suck. And most of the US has slow DSL internet, making HD content too hot to handle.

Now, if you go point by point, you will always find ways to rebut these issues (e.g. get an antenna, Hulu Plus, etc.), but in reality, yours and my solutions won’t matter to these families. What these people ultimately want is easy, passive TV. They don’t want to think for themselves. They don’t want to watch something only if it’s truly good. They just want to turn ON the TV, and just watch almost whatever is on it at the time. As long as the program is easily digested, no one would change the channel. Viewers just don’t want to have to choose, they want one less thing to decide and research about.

Of course, there are ways for Apple/Roku/Google to bring a true TV revolution, but their offerings must look and feel more like traditional TV. Currently, they feel more like a computer, wearing fake clothes to look more like a TV product. But in reality, these products are still designed too much like a computer. I explained this here before.

To be honest, I don’t quite expect older people to like active TV, since they are used to this lazy kind of TV-watching in all their years. But I was infuriated when I saw the teenage kid saying that he would just watch whatever movie the cable channels would currently show. I indeed expected more critical thinking from a youngster. You see, eventually, apathetic behavior by some, comes back and bites all the rest of us in the ass — at many levels in our lives.

But hey, as long as we can watch “Sister Wives”, “Kate Plus 8”, or Snooki, all is cool.