Ralf Kienzler

6.6.2013

Plea for reduced interaction possibilities on TV screens

Desktop users are used to using the File Explorer on PC systems and, like the Finder on Apple computers, as a central file manager. With them it is possible to select all available files and use existing functions and features without changing the view. This is practical, because it allows a clear presentation of the complete range of products and all matching options. And all this in only one window without losing the context.

What could be more obvious than to transfer this principle to TV sets in exactly the same way? As an experienced computer user you ask yourself just because of the certainty that it is so much easier to apply your learned behavior on another device in the same way. The alternative is to deal with a new interaction paradigm, which first has to be explored. However - it is not possible to show the corresponding accessibility on the TV screen in a similar way. This is what I try to make clear in the following.

Klassischer Windows-Explorer
The Windows Explorer on the PC: Super - all at once.


Funktionsüberladener Verzeichnisbrowser auf dem TV-Screen
A similar representation on a TV screen: Suboptimal - all at once.

1. The mouse to table

When a company called Telefunken used an input device known as a "rolling ball" to control user interfaces in 1968, its chances of success were not even worth the company's patent application. It was Apple that first established the mouse as an effective human-machine interface with an easy-to-understand graphical user interface in 1983. It's just a pity that this proven operating aid cannot be transferred to the sofa at all: Attempts with Wii-like motion detection to move mouse-like over TV screens still look like steering to a buoy in heavy waves, at least for the moment. In addition, the accomplishment of complex task organizations such as multitasking or the use of shortcuts by a conventional remote control are to a certain extent mutually exclusive.

It is difficult to predict when the control options used in modern game consoles will be transferred to TV sets, given the limited hardware options. In addition, the following problem results from controlling with a remote control:

2. Long ways make tired

Even though it is not possible to measure the performance of an offer solely on the basis of the number of clicks. Due to the need to move around a screen with standard remote controls using the arrow keys, the user is required to walk long distances when viewing views with many interaction possibilities.

The way from the main menu via a submenu to the detailed selection via a wide range of functions on a screen then means continuous fire on the navigation cross of the remote control. With the goal always in sight, the way there becomes a tedious and frustrating click marathon, which costs time and does not exclude detours. On the other hand, we provide interfaces with a reduced selection of options, the functions are distributed over several views.

3. My friend on the other side

The room layout of a typical German living room illustrates the distance between the user in slippers, who relaxes and devotes himself to his beer after work, and the output device opposite him. Acquiring a lot of information at a distance of 4 meters is far more strenuous than juggling with data from an Excel application in the working position of an office worker in front of his computer. Or in short: capturing information from a distance on bulging screens can lead to pure stress. This does not have to be the case.

4. The selection, the king

As user interface developers we follow established design principles. This includes giving priority to the content. By emphasizing their presence through correspondingly generous space, we focus on less but important information.

Often it is not sufficient to display the complete offer at once, but to distribute the information over several screens. Easy accessibility is provided by quickly accessible forward and backward buttons. Secondary functions are also distributed on subsequent screens, so they do not steal any space. Content is given priority, the complex context remains close at hand, but is no longer concentrated on one screen.

Zugebaute Mosaikansicht auf dem TV-Screen
Completed: Mosaic with menus and functions


Reduzierte Mosaikansicht auf dem TV-Screen
Tidy: Mosaic without much fuss


With the many arguments for a manageable number of interaction possibilities on the TV screen, the disadvantages should not be ignored: functions placed on subsequent screens are often difficult to locate. And they do not offer the user any offers on previously visited overview pages, which is currently also the case with Windows 8, for example. Nevertheless: modern desktop computers basically have a lot of space available that the user does not have on the TV screen. The aforementioned distance between the user and his TV set means that the user interface cannot be divided up into small sections with excessive information and interaction possibilities.

The problems are compounded by technical aspects that are difficult to communicate to consumers. The movement from one screen to the next requires above all a high-performance hardware performance. This must be guaranteed without waiting times and problems with the screen layout when moving from one page to the next. A slow reaction of the device always leads to frustration and reluctance to walk the long way across several screens again.

Therefore we have been hoping for improved hardware conditions for years. Be it because of rumors of an advance by Apple with the production of own TV sets, which is unfortunately not to be expected at present. Or the speculation about an independent TV offer from google through the acquisition of Motorola set-top box patents last year, which however are to be sold. Recently the announcement of technology companies like amazon with the production of a kindle TV set-top box this year raised expectations, or the implementation of numerous TV features on Microsoft's new Xbox.

In the future, the hardware will offer the user more possibilities to expand TV offers into a pleasurable experience. However, the market situation for TV sets currently resembles a faltering journey in traffic jams. Waiting requires patience and ideas to develop attractive interfaces even with the reduced possibilities. Certainly a TV interface should never resemble a PC desktop, the terms of use are too different for that.

Ralf Kienzler

UX / UI Designer

rk@coeno.com

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