18 July 2013 by Jay Heal
I really am loving the fact we have so many screens to work with now as UXers and talk of many new ones that are going to come along in the not so distant future. Some of the things we thought belonged only within Minority Report or Bladerunner are slowly becoming part of normal life. Mobile and tablet viewports are now well established alongside the grand-daddy of all screens, desktop. IpTV is now becoming the latest addition to this Galacticos of line-ups for ways we able to interact with data that is now being piped to these devices quicker than we could have imagined. Fibre-optic and 4G being the new blood circulation of this new network society. But what happens when a new device pops up? And then another after that? Do we have to revisit the same questions over and over? Hopefully not.
I was lucky enough to have worked closely with BBC News earlier this year and the same questions were being asked. At the moment, they break news very well over TV, Radio and the four online screens (mobile, tablet, desktop and IpTV). Though what would happen when Google Glass and the much coveted Apple iWatch finally get released? Do we have to define again what we did with mobile and tablet again to work out what does a good and bad user experience looks like? What are the KPIs?
Today, we have to assume these challenges will happen time and time again. What I feel interesting about how the BBC deal with breaking news is that all outputs are complimentary to one another and is almost one experience over many devices. Although the editorial angle will vary from programme to programme, the facts and the figures are consistent so that they are telling essentially the same story.
If you have ever subscribed to Netflix there are some hidden experience gems in there. Not only does it store the films you have rated on one device experience to another but it also stores the last viewing position of that film. Quite a basic feature but hugely useful when starting to watch something on your smartphone and then continuing this experience when getting home and continuing on your Playstation, Xbox, IpTV or Apple TV. As a UX designer, I think this is shift in thinking of experiences as device centric and to a more holistic experience. This is a characteristics of cross platform collaboration and not working in device silos, such as the mobile app team or desktop team. Sounds incredibly simple but we all know this is often very difficult to implement in a real life workplace.
Imagine if we was able to map the experience of a husband / father trying to book a holiday abroad for his family. For sake of argument, this person could quite easily be me trying to take my stressed out wife and demanding 3 children. This would start with a trigger, something that would put the task in my mind. Quite often this could be an advert in between Christmas and Easter or just from my wife just needing a much deserved break.
In my household, I am not ashamed to say we have many devices for many purposes. In total, we have: iMac, MacBook Pro, iPad 2, iPad 3, iPhone 4, iPhone 5, Apple TV, IpTV (via Tivo box) and a PC collecting dust in my office. This could be joined by an Amazon Kindle at some point soon. I know these sound like a lot of devices and quite frankly, it probably is. But they all serve a great purpose in their own way amongst my household of 5 and maybe too long a story to go into in this blog post, but trust me they all get a lot of use.
In context of the use case of my wife and I searching for a single annual holiday would most likely start as a browse of discovery on the laptop and our phones over a few month period. Destination, language, cost, hotel quality, baby facilities, flight times and departing airports all a major concern making a final choice no easy thing. Each device better suited to specific segment of the overall experience. Obviously the desktop and laptop experience will lend itself to a richer mix of content and data (including reviews, videos and local attractions), where mobile is a little more focused on the discovery and conversion features. Do I really want to be pulling in video content automatically on my 4G allowance for every hotel I am looking at? Probably not but my contract provider would probably enjoy me going over my allowance.
But the important thing is, like the Netflix movie experience this needs to be a joined up experience taking the characteristics of the device and context of use as differing segments of the same experience. As a UX designer, I feel it is important we treat this as an interaction with brand and not a brand on a device. A conversion, in our use case anyway, will not happen on one device in a single session as there is too much at stake. Would it be fair for us to make the same cold starts we began with everytime we jumped from device to device?
Also, when we are getting closer to the final conversion we like to compare a shortlist of 3 or 4 options. But again, do we need to do this from a single device- hopefully not. Ideally, we would like to populate our chosen options any any variety of devices whether it be on my phone on my commute or whether I am relaxing on the sofa with our laptop or iPad.