Up, Down, Left, right & Search

When Samsung shipped our latest TV I brought one home to do some more in-depth user testing. We had had a few small issues with some of the OTT providers. I was also keen to try the new award winning and accolade receiving universal remote control (Walt Mossberg said we “Fixed the TV Remote” — pretty cool!).

Samsung’s 2016 simple, universal, TV remote

Simple, beautiful, elegant.

But it has NO Number keys. I’d been listening to debates about this for weeks and was curious how much it really affected me.

My youngest daughter, coincidentally, was home sick the next few days and so she, not I got to break-in the TV. Watching, what I can only imagine was an orgy of reality TV, documentaries and tween romcoms.

In some part due to their parent’s nomadic lifestyles (we lived in Los Angeles, Bucharest, Romania, Vancouver, Canada, London, GB and San Francisco, CA in their first eight years on this planet. ) As well as my role (their Father) designing and building on-demand TV systems for Cablevision, Panasonic, Comcast and of course the BBC’s iPlayer, my kids are

probably some of the earliest cord cutters in existence. (Yes it is true that I am the person who made the BBC’s iPlayer goes up to 11).

My daughter’s video content consumption was almost entirely on demand. In fact, at one stage, in a hotel in Canada, severely jet-lagged, I decided to introduce them to the Cartoon Network. When, after too few minutes of resting bliss, my daughter returned to tug my arm insistently — saying, the TV’s Broken Dad I arose, heroic, but annoyed.

However, when I entered the other room, the TV was working perfectly, a Barbie commercial of some sort was on. Zoe said : “See Dad, this man keeps interrupting the show!”

Given the majority of her previous TV consumption was on BBC (no commercials) or DVD’s I realized she’d never fully experienced commercial TV before that moment. Blam.

After explaining that this was how TV worked in Canada, (and indeed the USA) she declared “I don’t want to watch it then” and we grabbed a portable DVD player (remember those?) and she went back to blissful TV induced catatonic state.

Even today our content consumption patterns differ, for me, I have very segregated services for Music, reality, news, sports; premium and/or free. Personally — I naturally segment them into separate experience buckets of apps, bundles or channels. This is how the world has always worked. But when the girls want to play music, they open youtube (if near a screen) or if in our living room says “Alexa play Chainsmokers.” Even more likely she’ll discover a piece of music on Musical.ly, listening over and over as she creates a music video 1/2 speed with her friends.


My daughter doesn’t know what Spotify is, or why I use it instead of YouTube. She doesn’t care. All content is the same to her; whether it’s the Minecraft videos she consumes and creates for hours, or free pirated movies. Even when it’s premium (like some of the Disney shows she enjoys), she screams for me to authenticate our Comcast subscription on her iPad — and then goes back into the tween bubble. I wonder what will happen when we kill the cable subscription next year? I suspect she’ll simply find that content someplace else or get a login from a friend. Her sister already has a Netflix account and uses that almost exclusively. To the next generation the content & programming are the only thing that matters, to the exclusion of channel, aggregator or platform. They have zero value, and are replaceable.

So to return to where we began, I asked my daughter what she thought of the remote control. She said “It’s great” and continued to munch on popcorn. I probed a little, looking for a bit more data. “Do you miss anything?”

“No Dad, it’s awesome. It’s simpler, clean and doesn’t have all those useless buttons on it.”

Now we were getting somewhere.

“But don’t you miss the number keys?” “Yeah those buttons, they are totally annoying really…”.

Suddenly an awe-inspiring, brain twisting through occurred to me — “Hey you do know those number keys allow you to jump to a particular channel… right ?”

She looked at me dumbfounded. “What are you talking about Dad? Why would I do that?”

I opened the Comcast X1 guide on the TV, using their remote and showed her how the channel buttons corresponded with the numbers on the guide.

Comcast remote with guide

She gave me her best Tween Eye-roll — “that’s crazy Dad, why would anyone go to all that trouble….” It’s a total waste. Just use up down left right or search.

And just like that, I realized something. We, with all of our TV consuming history, come at the TV from a perspective of our past perceptions, beliefs, and memories. Our interfaces, in fact, have to deliver us to the future. Teach us how to use the product. Like Microsoft did with the games in the original version of windows, or later as we adapted computer, gaming interfaces for TV and automobiles.

As we strive for minimalism, we also have to make sure our own experiential bias doesn't cloud our perceptions. We need to think of all users, and pay attention to where the experience trend-line is headed. Even though we make products for the lowest common denominator. (Everyone = target market) We forget that often those creating the products have a different paradigm and life experience — and therefore expectations. To users like me, the buttons are as part of TV as the volume and guide button. Without them, I felt frustrated and encumbered in my search for content. Given the power of our technology, we can now create interfaces & experiences which adapt to our user’s level of technical faculty, or experience, or expectation. The organic interface is the future. Perhaps the systems will adapt to their perception of our experience..

Number keys for older users — no keys and a voice link for the very youngest. In the future search, agents, voice it all has to work — when it doesn’t consumer simply switch to the next platform, device, channel, site, show. As always, they are in charge, but these days, they are even more omnipotent — because of oversupply.

To my daughter, raised on iPlayer, iPad and predominantly on-demand content — and who had never known a physical TV switched via physical remote control as I, and most people my age had these keys were useless vestigial nubs — like our human tailbone.

To her, interfaces all work the same. Up Down Left Right Search. The number keys, and indeed even the guide button were a weird vestigial limbs she ignored or worked around; their existence as needless and silly as my subscription to Spotify…

(come see me on a panel at TVOT in NYC December 8th)

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