ideation iteration illumination just launched a 10ft UI version of their aggregation service and I’ve had the time to give it a spin so I thought I would pass on my initial reactions. I realize that it’s in ‘beta’ (the infernal excuse for not doing it right) but there were quite a few points of friction for me.

First things first, this is fast! Wow. It’s an HTML 5 front end that really moves but unfortunately it seems a bit for show (or at least premature) since all of the actual content is served by non-HTML 5 providers (will return to this topic). Despite that, I’m willing to give them credit on this point and will chalk it up to ‘looking ahead’. Its UDLR (Up/Down/Left/Right on a keyboard or remote) optimized interface is swift and agile. Even after using it for an extended time I was still impressed by the performance.

Also the home screen is bold with nice large images with episode specific thumbnails and uses an interesting and novel “slot machine” like column based scrolling style. No movie titles here, but nonetheless engaging. When viewing movies, they do offer nice large grid view of movie cover art.

I will chunk the “needs improvement” issues into a bulleted list in the hopes that it will act as a forcing function to keep any potential rants succinct.

→ No persistent indication of what section the viewer is currently browsing on the main navigation. The browsing frame gives that info but without the icon reference it is not as informative as it could be. This basic usability faux pas could give the viewer a better contextual understanding.

→ Search is accessible from anywhere by simply typing. This isn’t useful in a purely UDLR environment but when a keyboard is available it’s a nice to have. My biggest issue with search is that it is aggregated across all categories of all media types; Movies, TV, Web, Music. There is no way to search or sort by type of media. The only Sort options are “Popularity”, “Title”, and “Air Date”. Not good. Also there is no indication of how many results there are, but that’s almost irrelevant given the fact that it the Search result set scrolls deep into blank and then faded result cells. Obviously a bug (this is a beta after all).

→ Oddly the “Categories” tab on the left navigation is actually only TV Categories. Movie and music categories are under the “Movie” and “Music” tabs respectively. Under “TV” and “Web” there is an alternate taxonomy of “Themes”. This is a bit novel but quickly irrelevant. Who decides on what constitutes a theme and how can the viewer make themes relevant to her (a common notion of UI themes)?

→ The Playlist must have been one of those features that was crammed in to meet a launch date because it’s all kinds of weird. For TV shows I am forced to add titles at the show level – that’s right, the show level – not season nor episode but show. So all results that fit under that title go onto your playlist. You do have the option to individually remove episodes from the playlist but none to individually add. There are a couple of management features in the playlist but truthfully it was so disappointing to me that I didn’t even want to pursue that investigation. Pleasantly the system does display the number of items on the playlist in the left nav but the pleasantness wore off immediately when I hit “Add to Playlist” and saw that it was now 143 items long. It’s just not quite useful yet so shouldn’t have been included until it was right.

→ There is the ability to toggle watched/unwatched from the playlist, but that seems like something the system should be doing for me, not vice versa.

→ The on screen keyboard isn’t good for password sensitive group environments (i.e. the 10ft experience) as the keyboard highlights the letter/numbers as you type even though the text box input is obfuscated.
They have actually crippled the experience should the viewer want to use a mouse or pointing device. I can’t understand this one, no scroll, no alternate paging/scrolling affordance, very intermittent hover response on links, etc.

→ Another odd glitch in the cover art grid was in the “Movies” section when the viewer selects the Sort By option of “Title” the list updates as expected to what appears to be an A-Z list of available movie titles arranged in a cover art grid. However scrolling down reveals that the list doesn’t even finish the “A” titles and there is no way to get more or proceed to or even hard link to the “B”, “C”, etc. (insert beta excuse?). This and the Search issue that was previously noted could potentially be belying the perceived performance.

→ While the episode browser makes sense and is nicely presented for TV shows and web series, and even music, the decision to force movie details into that same template was ill-reasoned. This one really bugs me. Personal thing I suppose, but it’s sloppy, lazy and unconsidered.

→ The viewable area does not scale to maximize screen real estate, topping out at only three columns of movie cover art, which on my 1920px wide screen leaves a big gaping black column that takes up the last third of my screen. What a waste.

→ There’s a lot more music out there than what’s on offer. Why such a small list?

→ The biggest fracture in the whole experience is the dependency on external non-HTML 5 compliant providers. Aside from the formatting difference, the experience actually shifts at the point of interest (i.e. “I want to watch that”) which forces the UDLR viewer to search for a mouse and keyboard to operate play controls, buy buttons, account settings and even external software (iTunes). Wow. That really sucks. I wonder if there is some hope to sell this presentation level experience to the content providers in the interest of closing this gap, but at this point it renders the whole experience irrelevant to me. Until that point is rectified, it becomes more of a cute widget to futz with but I would not seriously consider consuming content this way.
October 21, 2012

I hope that that UI is going to be on their Linux version of the talebt … and, I hope I wont get shot for saying this, but an awful lot of that looked Mac-like (some of the icons were definitely Mac/NeXT like, and some of the other things seemed that way as well).Correct me if I’m wrong, but were all of the talebt mode interactions done in landscape orientation? Nothing in Portrait? It would have been nice to see them doing that memo writing, with the virtual keyboard, in Portrait mode. Seems like you could do that, and still have a usable area left for the application. You might even be able to thumb type like that (portrait screen orientation, virtual keyboard in the lower 1/3 or 1/2 of the screen, application in the top part of the screen).I agree with Saperalot: The T91 is the device I’m currently waiting for. If it’s a reasonable price, with that UI, and with the Linux version (Linpus or Ubuntu) released before May, I’m in. If not … then I may look a lot harder at the Classmate 2Go Convertible Tablet (whose Linux version is due in April, and their non-Tablet version had Ubuntu).

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