Apple CEO Tim Cook’s prediction that the “future of TV is apps” will probably not age well. Since the industry witnessed the initial surge of app-based user interface designs, changing consumer demands and new capabilities enabled by better technologies means strategies are set to transform once again. As a result of these technological developments, the way users interact with UIs and their devices is set to shift dramatically. In the context of the Pay TV industry and its UI landscape, this has significant implications.
Thanks to Apple’s aforementioned app revolution across mobile and desktop, along with growing consumer adoption of OTT services, some Pay TV providers have mimicked this style with similar app-based UIs – take Android TV architectures, for example. This has created a landscape where the user is confronted with an ever-increasing number of services when they switch on their TV – from Netflix and linear broadcasting to VOD services and YouTube. All of this combines to create a labyrinth of menus across multiple apps and services.
What was set as the standard for TV UIs, the Electronic Programme Guide (EPG), is still a must-have. However, it is now part of an incredibly complex ecosystem despite being familiar to many who have ever consumed content in a linear fashion (especially prior to the advent of app-based TV). This disparate and disrupted landscape of content sources and interfaces means it’s now difficult to create a truly happy medium that satisfies all users when developing a UI – different viewers have different preferences in how they access content.
For many years, the UX design standard has been to use a graphical user interface (GUI). This is most notable on computers where users interact with their devices and open programmes and apps, rather than historically launching through the likes of MS DOS. Pay TV needs to head in the same direction. Providers need to create a happy medium of dynamic UIs that combine text and graphic-driven interfaces.
Some other recent developments have also borrowed from the mobile industry, stripping UIs back to their absolute core functionality. It may prove beneficial for Pay TV providers to take a page from this design viewpoint and focus on delivering the core elements to their subscribers.
Whether this will prove a long-term solution is unlikely however – there are simply too many content sources available. This is in part because we’ve started to see the emergence of new kinds of non-graphical interfaces – most notable of which is the Voice User Interface (VUI) in Amazon Alexa, Microsoft’s Cortana and Apple’s Siri. Virtual and augmented reality technologies are also finding their feet as genuine technological solutions, rather than just niche gadgets that fade out with time. On a Pay TV platform, the use of a VR headset could create an interactive menu where subscribers can ‘walk’ through a life-like library of content, rather than laboriously sift through different apps and sources to find what they want to watch.
The next step in UIs will lead to various alternatives to the standard GUI, all of them looking more viable by the day. And because these technologies will be new to all users, it’s unlikely to drive a wedge between generations as others have done.
Imagine a user switches on the TV looking for a film to watch. They have a title in mind; it’s simply a case of finding it on their Pay TV services. Now, compare these two scenarios:
- In the first, the user turns on their smart TV and opens the Netflix app. It’s not there. Then they switch on their Xbox One and check HBO Go. It’s not there either, so they check Amazon Prime. Eventually they find the film they want to watch, but feel frustrated by the experience.
- In the second scenario, the user asks their VUI to find the film they want to watch. It then searches the database across all available apps and services to find it. Then the user starts watching – a much simpler process!
The imperative is clear. Consumers are faced with a dizzying assortment of apps delivered over multiple hardware solutions. Providers must combat this with a cross-platform, dynamic UI with different content sources built-in that creates a bridge between content silos and streamlines what otherwise becomes a frustrating process.
UIs and the overall user experience are set to transform in the coming years. Dynamic, agile, responsive solutions can surely work for all users across all generations and demographics to create the best possible user experience. And if Pay TV providers can combine these dynamic UIs with a truly personalised service, they can continue to drive uptake. For now, it’s up to them to consider which technology is viable, which is flexible, and which best reflects the wants and need of their subscribers.