Soft Remote

Removing buttons but maintaining an old serial metaphor is not an improvement. We didn't set out to simply change the remote, but rather to reinvent control.


77% of people watching TV are using another device.  Of course screen time is highly coveted not only by content providers and advertisers, but by MVPD’s as well.  We were asked to develop a control-centric companion experience that would serve to enhance discovery of linear content, but also become a platform that would allow us to pioneer more mobile first and technically challenging concepts and strategies.  We already had a mobile application that serviced the video business, so we knew this one had to be focused, minimal, and offer the greatest reward for the least amount of engagement.

From designing video experiences across 8 different platforms, we were intimately familiar with the relationship between the on-screen presentation, and the input metaphor.  Whether it’s gesture, voice, an analog game controller, or a traditional LRUD (left, right, up, and down) remote, improving one facet of the experience without considering the other leads to no improvement at all.  So we began with a concept that was tailored to our strength, large format video already on the largest screen in the house.



A few remote concepts had been released, but we felt they didn’t quite hit the mark.  Simply presenting a picture of a traditional remote control on a phone presumed that the buttons were the problem and that displaying them as an app was improvement enough.  But when faced with an on-screen UI that continued the classic up, down, left, right metaphor, the app construct becomes more of a hinderance.  Especially with launching of the app and login screens between the user and channel up.  If arrows and OK were going to define the experience, using physical buttons might actually be the best solution.  We didn’t set out to simply change the remote, rather we intended to change what “control” meant.


Using a gesture device really allowed us to think differently about interacting with a television.  It sounds silly, but in essence what we were really trying to accomplish was allowing people to find shows that interest them, and quickly view them on their TV.  Sampling from some previous concepts, we focused in on an idea that really placed the content in the foreground of the experience, rather than relegating it to channels dispersed across a lineup.  Once the show became the tangible element the user was manipulating, it was easy to extrapolate into all sorts of scenarios.  The user could tap the image to tune that channel, they could drag and drop to a folder (or DVR) to create bookmarks and recordings.  They could even pull content from one television in the house and flick it to another, taking their show with them anywhere in the house.



Much of the cable experience is predicated upon the users preconceived notions of what their service traditionally offers.  Same goes for the remote control.  But with this product we were really stepping outside of our customers expectations.  Free from the trappings of our traditional products we wanted to make sure this concept evolved in partnership with our customers.

To enforce our new customer-back thinking we quickly developed three prototypes to get into usability research.  The first concept was more of a control.  A gesture only app that manipulated the UI that was already available from the cable box.  It followed the traditional orientation by translating the gestures to key events and sending them to the resident hardware.  The second concept we were able to conceive of and develop during a lab week with a few iOS developers.  This concept allowed users to scroll through a carousel of their favorite channels, displaying the box art for the currently airing program.  To change the channel, the user simply tapped the image.  And the third concept was prototyped by our design partner Method.  Although similar to the second concept, this one allowed for consumption and stream control on the device.  At any point the user could “flick” either the box art or the full-screen video toward their television, and that cable box would tune the particular channel.

We recruited fairly tech-savvy customers that would be interested in products in this space, and that presumably have Facebook or Pinterest already open on their second screen.  With working, but rough, prototypes in hand we conducted 4 days of one-on-one interviews.  The questions ranged from what is conceptually easy to understand and expedient to “what would get you to switch away from Facebook, if only for a second?”



As we expected the gesture based concept was well understood.  It didn’t deviate from the users traditional understanding of navigating through the UI.  What we didn’t expect was the excitement and delight that the participants felt with the other concepts.  Once the users realized the function of the second and third concepts, they sat up and engaged.  They began to imagine how they would use this app in their lives.  A few even imagined out loud how they would mess with roommates or family members with this new-found control.

Having worked with our customers to discover a viable product, the next step was to understand the minimum feature set and get it out in the wild.  Working with Product, Architecture, and Engineering, we refined the concept and boiled it down to stories and created some early deliverables.  Although still in development, below is the final concept.


Content, not channels

Users can filter the available content using collections that make sense and are relevant.  No more blocks of unauthorized channels to skip through.  Find what’s popular, or trending, or on your most recent channels.


Control any TV in the house

The device tray provides access to all your televisions. Users can tap a TV to pair it, or drag their show to a new TV to move their program from the living room to the bedroom, and back.


Say Anything...

Natural language processing allows the user to accomplish more complex tasks in a way they understand. Just hit the microphone button, and say anything you want.


Who's in that movie again?

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