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5 Steps That Will Make Smart TV Apps Smarter

by Lindsay Fullerton , 22.09.2014

As a mind-boggling array of new devices provide a constant supply of information and social connection, consumers are demanding that their TVs keep pace. At this year’s CES and SXSW, smart TVs were at the forefront of the discussion about the evolving role of television. At their core, smart TVs are television consoles that have an internet connection, and are one piece in the “connected TV” landscape. Consumer demand for smart TVs is increasing worldwide, especially in foreign markets. In Germany, for example, more than 60% of new TVs sold are now Smart TVs.

Ranging from content channels to social media and games, apps for smart TVs are a major part of creating a positive user experience. With thousands of apps available for smart phones and tablets, users expect a synergy across all their platforms. For the manufacturer’s part, consistent guidelines that help developers create the best look and feel for potential apps would be a positive next step. But beyond following baseline manufacturer guidelines, what can smart TV app developers do to optimize user experience? Here are five suggestions to help smart TV apps become smarter.

1. Aim for the Target

Identifying the behaviors and expectations of the target audience is the first step for any app developer. However, designing for smart TV users presents some unique considerations when aiming for the best user experience. First and foremost, today’s users are multi-taskers. A 2014 study by CEA and NATPE shows that 79% of the users surveyed use “second screen” devices like phones and tablets while watching TV. App developers for these second screen platforms have leveraged this experience by providing interactive apps that complement and enhance TV viewing. The UK series “Britain’s Got Talent,” offers a popular play-along app where listeners can vote in real time during the show.

Though TV may be a central part of the connected experience, it is clear that people do not use TVs to complete the same tasks as other devices. Most people still turn to TV for both streaming and network content, so smart TV apps that provide additional content are a no-brainer. However, there are other ways to integrate apps directly into the viewing experience, such as through shopping and audience voting apps for shows such as The Voice and Dancing With the Stars. In every case, it is important to consider if the app activity is better suited to the TV platform or as a second-screen app on another device.

2. Same Experience, Near or Far

The viewing configuration of watching a television is very different from the interaction with a tablet or a phone. Using an app on a large device 10-12 feet away makes for a vastly different experience than using a smaller device at arm’s length (or closer). For example, small font size and large blocks of text will be difficult to see at the typical TV viewing distance. Large images and high-definition videos, on the other hand, will have a more powerful impact on a large smart TV than they would on a smaller screen. In addition to larger screen size and a longer viewing distance, the smart TV is generally directly in front of the viewer, whereas the user tends to be looking down to interact with the app on a smartphone or tablet, which is a different experience.

3. One Size May Not Fit All

Chances are that a smart TV is used by many family members or housemates. If a smart TV is in a central location, it probably attracts different audiences with different interests throughout the day. To reflect the various parties using the TV, having the ability to create individual app accounts makes sense. Significant others or roommates may enjoy wildly different content and parents may have content they do not want to be viewable by their kids. Toggling between accounts should be made as intuitive as possible to allow for quick changes in users.

4. New Platforms, New Remotes

The remote control as we know it is becoming obsolete, especially when compared to the more intuitive touch screen and scrolling accessibility of phones and other devices. However, the remote control is still the navigational interface for most consumers, even on a smart TV, so it is essential to make app navigation simple and easily accessible. Keeping this in mind, nested menus, multiple columns and items that must be reached by scrolling may be difficult to find on a push button remote. Similarly, any required text input should be minimized, which takes much more effort on a TV screen with a standard remote.

5. Watch it Here, Watch it There

It’s commonplace for someone to use an app on a smart TV then walk away and want to continue use on a tablet later. Allowing app information and content to be portable between devices is a logical next step. Easing the transition between smart TVs and other platforms will increase user satisfaction and help solidify the app’s brand identity. Additionally, coordination between manufacturers and designers when developing their products can provide a more uniform feel between devices, and reduce the learning curve.

Overall, keeping the needs and habits of users in mind, manufacturers and app developers can optimize the user experience of using smart TVs as both standalone technologies, and alongside other devices. GfK is helping lead the charge to learn more about the role of smart TVs in homes across America through its ethnographic research collaboration with the Council for Research Excellence. By better integrating apps into the user experience of watching (and interacting with) TV, smart TVs can become smarter still.

Lindsay Fullerton is a User Experience Specialist at GfK User Experience. She can be contacted at lindsay.fullerton@gfk.com.