UX-Review: Google Daydream — YouTube App

Environment

When you launch the app there is a gray screen in front of you. The environment is a simple geometric dome. Similar to Netflix’s “Void Theater” in the Oculus Gear VR, you can scale the screen to your viewing preference by swiping up and down on the controller as well as move the screen to a different position in the dome by clicking and moving your remote. One improvement could be to have the option to lock the screen or save the position/scale to your profile. It can be pretty easy to accidentally adjust the size of the screen.


Navigation

There are 4 top-level menu items: Home, 360, Subscriptions and Account. These four tabs are at the top of the content grid. YouTube is organizing content base on what is best viewed in the headset. Even watching non-360 content in the headset is great. The Doctor Strange trailer was awesome inside this space. You feel closer the to the content and the sense of presence in this space works very well.

To the left is the asset detail information of the video playing or your last played video. To the right is the “Up Next” tray where you have the option to turn on/off the Autoplay feature.

If you click on the YouTube logo it resets the grid of content to the starting point of how it was organized when you first launched the app. There is a noticeable lag in performance when you do this especially if you click the logo while in a 360 video. The grid on the top-left is a toggle for the UI layers. You can have a video playing in the background while you search for another piece of content. Similar to their mobile app, this seems to be a common thread that Google is carrying over into their VR space.

The main navigation paradigm is scrolling up or down in the category. The back button only appears if you dig into the content enough.


Playback Controls

You can’t click and drag the volume or playback marker (1+2). You click where you want it to be and the icon will jump to that location. That was a little of a surprise to me, but definitely not a deal breaker. You can adjust the captions and the video quality before you even begin watching a video (3+4). The subtle hover and highlight over each UI piece is very smooth. I would not be surprised if some the interactions in this app become a foundation for VR moving forward. The UI in general is not mind blowing, but the interactions of the buttons are a solid stepping stone for GUIs in VR.

When you are playing non-360 content there is a new option included in the settings menu called “Curved Screen.” It (surprise) makes the content curve around you and fills up your horizontal FOV. It is a nice, simple touch (1). Captions settings are first on the list (2) followed by Quality (3). The quality defaults to “Auto” and the only other option that comes up is “Highest.” Auto keeps a constantly running video, but optimizes the quality based on your bandwidth, in this setting the 360 videos look subpar. But in the “Highest” setting your trade is sometimes waiting for the video to buffer. Choose your poison. They also include the option to report a video with a few default options (4).

On some videos, there is a preview frame when you are moving your reticle on top of the timeline (below).


Search

Their are two options to search content: voice and keyboard(1). Using the keyboard(2) isn’t too painful as long as it is a short phrase, but voice search works great. You do have to allow YouTube to record audio if you want to voice search and the app asks you to remove the headset to confirm this (3). They also had search tags in some instances which will probably become more prominent for search in VR.

The voice input seemed to work great and that feature makes a huge difference. Two thumbs-up for that one.

Overview

Because Google brought in a familiar UI from Youtube and overlaid it in the VR space, this app was very intuitive to pick up. I would change the click and drag with the volume control and timeline and add an option to share videos in social media or invite another friend in Daydream to join you in the dome. Obviously there would be a lot of user scenarios to work out. There is one coming to mind — who would be in charge of the remote? But it would be a fun experience to watch content together. There is a simple learning curve, but being able to view YouTube content in Daydream is an awesome immersive experience. Great delivery on Google’s part.

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