Ferdinand Maier Issue: EMEA 2015
Article no.: 11
Topic: User experience, usability. utility:
How to keep the user in control within an IP-centric world
Author: Ferdinand Maier
Title: CEO
Organisation: Ruwido
PDF size: 419KB

About author

Ing. Ferdinand Maier, CEO, Ruwido.

As CEO of Ruwido, Ferdinand Maier oversees the innovative design, enhanced technology and scientific research that enable the intuitive navigation and user experience excellence for which the company is renowned. Mr Maier truly has ruwido in his soul – he began working at the company in 1975, where he worked towards gaining a Master’s degree in industrial engineering.

As a highly experienced member of the company, with a clear vision for the future of control and interaction, Mr Maier was appointed as managing director of Ruwido in 1993.

In 2003 Mr Maier completed a management buyout of the company, and remains the sole owner of Ruwido.

Article abstract

Within an IP world, remote controls can also go beyond navigating the TV experience and have the power to control any device in the household. By using BLE technology for two-way communication, codes necessary to control new devices can be downloaded. However, their success will be heavily influenced by the usability, utility as well as user experience they provide. Automation and flexibility in terms of function allocation on different devices will play an important role. This is because automation can be a paradox: if the control is over-automated, the user will feel that they are giving away too much control – after all, the remote is intended to put the user in control. 

Full Article

The way we watch and interact with our TV services has changed over the years. With the advent of video-enabled, internet connected devices, users can watch whatever they want, on any screen they want, at just about any time they want … in theory. In reality, the usage can become laborious. You might need to use several devices to combine and consume content coming from broadcast and IP.

What we found in a series of studies, focusing on the domains of TV, interactive TV and Internet Protocol TV, is that although people use an additional device during 60% of the TV watching time, for the majority (60%) watching TV is still a social activity. This means that the traditional TV set in the living room has become the ‘oasis’ for lean back, straight forward and intuitive navigation and can be seen as the ‘campfire of the new age’ which places great importance on the remote control. Like the television, the remote control has evolved over the years. How the remote control is used, the type of technology integrated, as well as the design, have all undergone transformations.

With more content and more TV services available than ever before, the remote control must not only allow seamless TV navigation, it also has to be powerful enough to meet the needs of modern user interfaces. It has to be considered how users interact with their user interfaces and how the need for different interaction mechanisms has evolved. Watching TV is a joy and the way that it is navigated should be a joy too. This means there are three fundamental elements to consider in order to support successful navigation at the modern day TV environment: user experience, usability and utility.

Many interaction mechanisms have been tried in the past, ranging from gesture and pointing to touch and speech. However individually, none of these modalities are made for navigating the TV in everyday life. But if different interaction mechanism technologies are fused, like voice, as an additional way for search and haptic feedback, demands of modern user interfaces can be met. Voice control adds an entirely new dynamic to TV interaction. Searching for known content becomes more natural, and it complements the existing functionality of the device while being sensitive to the human behaviour of the user.

However, it is important to note that while voice interaction is an alternative method to search for known content, it cannot and should not be applied to TV navigation. Voice will work if it is more convenient to ask than to search through large libraries and type in letters, even if you do have to repeat yourself twice, but it should not be applied to functions such as the volume or channel up and down. For navigation, haptic feedback is predestined. Tailored interaction mechanism technologies keep the user in control, providing precise feedback to support ‘user experience excellence’.

A few years ago many said the remote would be replaced by smart devices. However, our applied scientific research has shown that smartphones and remote controls serve different needs and therefore do not compete, or even replace one another. Smartphones are private devices while remote controls are public devices, especially developed and designed for moving through content on the big screen in the living room. The second screen is in fact complementary to the TV experience as it provides a platform for users to find out more information about a TV programme, utilize social media to talk about content in real time, or simply, as many do, surf the web for material which is unrelated to the content on the main screen. Therefore we definitely see multimodal input devices indispensable for the future of intuitive TV navigation, being integrated within the landscape of latest technology.

For more than 30 years infrared (IR) has been the most popular form of transmission for the remote control market. However, today there is a wide range of technologies available, including Bluetooth, RF4CE or WiFi. Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) is the most promising for remote controls. Along with low energy consumption, BLE allows bidirectional communication, over the air updates and voice transmission in hifi quality.

Within an IP world, remote controls can also go beyond navigating the TV experience and have the power to control any device in the household. By using BLE technology for two-way communication, codes necessary to control new devices can be downloaded. However, their success will be heavily influenced by the usability, utility as well as user experience they provide. Automation and flexibility in terms of function allocation on different devices will play an important role. This is because automation can be a paradox: if the control is over-automated, the user will feel that they are giving away too much control – after all, the remote is intended to put the user in control.

Yet while the remote control today must contain complex technology on the inside and an innovative interaction mechanism to navigate the current TV landscape, another key question is how to touch the emotion of the user while simultaneously increasing usability.

Contrary to today’s common business practice of combining as many technologies, protocols and input modalities as possible, for intuitive TV navigation, it is important to remove any unnecessary components from the multitude of technological options and to focus on the essentials – how to enable users to interact in and with the TV environment in a more natural way to increase usability.

A reduced, clear and functional design language is also the most direct way to touch the emotion of the user. The rise of smartphones and tablets has increased expectations of how consumer electronics should look and feel, which also applies to the remote control. This means it is fundamental that the combination of different materials and surfaces make users proud of their remote control, giving it pride of place next to their smartphone on the living room table. However, equally as important is the need for the technology to work efficiently in the background, so as not to distract from the overall experience. Ultimately, technology and design have to support the emotions of the user, but not at the price of reduced usability.

The future is bright for the remote control. Even with the number of devices growing, the remote control remains king for navigating the big screen in the living room for both, broadcast and IP based content. Multimodal input devices integrated in the right landscape of technology are powerful enough to meet the demands of today’s TV landscape and still keep the user always in control of the choices.

Today’s operators and service providers need to better understand their users, and ensure they have a clear and seamless way to navigate through content, VOD libraries and menus of modern interfaces, if they are to succeed in the competitive TV landscape. The television is becoming an increasingly interactive proposition, with the user at the very heart of the TV Everywhere space. As TV navigation continues to evolve, operators need to think with a user-centric design perspective about the end-to-end ecosystem. Even a fantastic service with brilliant content will struggle if the system is not usable. Powerful input solutions, synchronized with corresponding interfaces, can enhance the user experience, simplify on-screen navigation and positively support the operator’s brand.