Contributed by: Praveen Nair (Lead User Experience Designer)

Praveen has close to 10 years experience in managing User Experience Design of interactive systems, with a combination of creative ability and expertise in Interaction Design, Visual Design and Research. He has managed teams and worked across a spectrum of domains, devices – Desktop, Mobile, Tablet, Television. Currently, he manages the software interface design of a consumer product in India. His interests are painting, music and performing arts.

Every product maker envisages their product to be:

 

The question remains whether these products have real value than just perceived values. Hopefully all of them would evolve, working towards the former. That is where businesses/designers/engineers need to do some ‘smart’ design decisions and make it happen in it’s true sense.

The latest thing to grab eyeballs recently in India have been the Smart TVs and why not?? There is no need to duplicate statistical data here from some source and everyone will agree that most households in urban, rural India have access to television like never before either through Satellite, Cable or DTH services.

What is ‘smart’ about Smart TVs:

 

So how is the age old ‘Idiot box’ different from a ‘smart’ one. Like smartphones, Smart TVs offer number of ‘Internet-connected services’ that normal televisions can’t offer. It has the equivalent of a computer built into it, giving additional functions. These televisions offer apps, media streaming, Web browsing and games. A cable or DTH connection with set-top box is still necessary on these TVs for broadcast channels. One step ahead is a technology called Digital Direct Broadcast, or DDB (yet to be launched), which is a TV operating system, that has the DTH
set-top box integrated into the TV hardware. DDB compliant TVs have direct digital transmission, 3D viewing, internet browsing and cloud computing functions. The big plus of DDB is the elimination of a set-top-box but the disadvantage is that users get tied down to a service provider for a long time. These Smart TVs are not to be confused with IPTVs where broadcast content is provided via high speed internet through Optic Fiber Cables. The availability of IPTV is very limited (almost non-existant in India).

However, as of today, Smart TV prices are sky high and price conscious Indian consumers would play the waiting game for the prices to come down in few years.

Alternative to make existing TVs into Smart TVs:

 

A recently bought flat-panel TV or an existing old analog TV can be upgraded to get the Smart TV features without having to buy a new television. In the US, several companies offer set-top boxes, software stack with smart features on-board. In India, this huge market is wide open to be explored.

What users want on TV:

 

TV users want to turn on their television, select a program, and watch it. They want movies, movies, movies and other videos!! Today, with millions of movies, television shows, and billions of other videos available at the click of a mouse, the content is already there. They want access to that portion of audio-visual content from the Web, when they find broadcast channels boring. Families like to access media [videos, photos, music] together on the biggest screen in the house and kids, youngsters, savvy users may explore fun activities like games.

What users don’t want on TV and what product makers offer:

 

The average Indian TV user doesn’t have the experience of using desktop computers and smart phones. Expecting them to know how to work with complex desktop-like interfaces is wrong. TV is more of a multi-user (family) device than individualistic and all age groups (5-90yrs) with varied backgrounds need to be considered. Thus it is ‘smart’ to go with the classic thumb-rule of 80:20 TV usage scenarios* as a product design strategy.

  • Most TV users may not want spreadsheets, work processing, email and web-browsing on their TVs
  • Font sizes on the above apps need to be very large to make it legible, else users would have to sit too close
  • Very few may like checking their Facebook pages on their new Smart TV and that is not a primary need
  • Anybody who comes into the room can see what someone is doing on TV! – Eg. Facebook, E-mail etc.

However, as the category is new, there are inevitable features that will come and go. On the contrary, families watching videos/photos together can share what they watch with others at a different location on Facebook,Twitter etc., Video chatting applications like Skype can be one of the useful applications that can let users talk to friends and relatives on TV with the addition of a Webcam.

*Based on informal secondary research data – smart tv users(very minimal), average tv users interacting with EPG schedules on Set-top Boxes(STB), already existing user base in the US, Europe etc.

‘Smart’ Design for TV – basics:

 

SIMPLICITY is the word – Simple and Implicit (John Maeda). As designers, the job is to create ‘smart’ user interfaces that give users access to content in a way that’s simple and implied. Users can’t be expected to adapt new habits and discover content within the interface that is designed. Consider that they are 10-12 feet away from the TV on an average. They are used to limited number of keys on the remote control for navigation. Therefore, user interfaces should be designed such that, they can be operated without looking at the remote control. Users don’t
give full attention to something else other than watching TV. It’s quite a challenge, but the potential payoff is multi-fold.

Users don’t really care about fancy user interfaces with tons of eye candy and flashy graphics. No matter how good an interface looks, nobody will use it if something can’t be figured out or if the payoff is very low. If best content is provided, a slightly more difficult interface could be got away with. The exact equation differs from user to user. In general, users expect a good reward for effort put on the interface and the challenge lies in making them indulge in something like apps, social interaction, shopping etc., effectively on TV.

Television is on the verge of incredible transformation. There will be more advances in the next 5 or 10 years. While the convergence of TV and the Web is a game changer, top quality content would still be the king. That is where the ‘smart’ convergence of content providers, internet providers, satellite TV service providers, designers, engineers would be the key and hopefully the real value of using Smart TVs would be higher than just perceived values.

Clarice Technologies is partnering with WoxiMedia, an US based company in designing/developing an Android based Set-Top Box, a SmartPod powered by Woxi’s cloud-based AppCasts (Internet Applications streaming) service to bring the best of global, Indian regional content, Android games and apps on TV at the flick off a remote.

We would love to hear from you! Leave your comments here on the blog!

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  1. Great article. I use a smart tv at home, and my experience has been that i dont explore the apps as much as try to access my movie content from a different computer/drive on my network.

    The apps are very cumbersome to use, especially with the provided remote.

    A lot of design thinking is needed to push app content on the TV, starting with “is it needed at all”? ;).

    The mantra for me is definitely “content, content and more content”.

  2. Thanks Anand. People not exploring apps is a reality and it all starts from ‘is it needed at all’ like you mentioned.
    Personally, even I do the same thing of watching movies from different sources (Mobile, Hard drive, laptop) on my TV.

    There are few apps which may be useful and a right balance is the key. And the design needs to be almost invisible, non-existant in the right way (simple, implied and familiar). Making it simple is the most ‘difficult’ part 🙂

    You are bang on with the mantra on the ‘content’ part! Content drives the design 🙂

    Thanks again.

  3. Great Article. Liked the futuristic thought and Idea engineering!. The line – “design needs to be almost invisible, non-existant” resonates in my mind 🙂