Tag Archives: jeremy toeman

Sep 21

Posted by Jeremy Toeman and Greg Franzese

Posted in Stage Two, UI/UX

The Real Secret of Apple’s Product Philosophy

CNET has a great article up that details the secrets of Apple’s customer service. Erica Ogg highlights the recent findings of the University of Michigan’s American Customer Satisfaction Index, a sort of Michelin guide for customer service and appreciation. Apple not only earned its highest score to date in this survey, it established a monster lead over other PC makers.

The real story is how much further ahead of its peers Apple is in this [survey].The Mac maker’s nine-point lead is now the largest lead any company has over its competition in any of the 45 categories that the ACSI study surveys–including home appliances, gas stations, autos, e-commerce, airlines, and more.

The real secret to Apple’s success is that there are no secrets.

Apple is dominating its competition in customer service because the company cares about creating a quality customer experience at every brand touchpoint. And they do this for a reason – it’s called “profit”.  Apple has built an immensely successful business model around the depth of caring about product experience, and it’s translating all the way from customer sentiment to Wall Street.  From corporate leadership and the vision of Steve Jobs to customized retail environments showcasing flawless product design, Apple is invested in delivering amazing experiences to their customers.

We often hear that Apple “plays the game” better than Sony, HP, Dell, etc – that’s not quite right. Apple is playing an entirely different game. What’s most amazing about this?  Nobody else seems to want to play with them, they just keep playing the “other” game, and poorly.

Apple is committed to creating fun, functional products that perform flawlessly for consumers. The iPhone changed the way people engaged telephony and internet everyday. iPad introduced tablet computing to the masses. From their take on music to a rock solid operating system, every product design choice Apple makes is governed by simplicity, ease of use and functionality. Apple deliberately kept the user experience in mind at every stage of product development and has benefited greatly from it.

The other guys?  They either license existing devices from miscellaneous unnamed overseas manufacturers, or “innovate” through tiny incremental feature design – aka copy others.  They certainly talk a good game about product experience, but it’s not even in the picture at anywhere near the same level.  And we don’t understand why.  It’s easy to see how they all got here, but surprising to see them not trying to change, especially if you bring the dollars into it.

The Cupertino company’s market cap is through the roof. They make boatloads of money on hardware, software, apps, services, content, etc.  The company has built a following of brand evangelists and is attracting consumer goodwill by the truckload. People love the Apple experience so much that they are willing to forgive recent mis-steps by the Mac maker. From antenna-gate to a camera-free iPad, to a little bit of Chinese child labor, consumers are choosing to remain with Apple (or wait around hoping for them to come their way).

The investment that Apple made several years ago in superlative product design and user experience has resulted in not only brand loyalty but brand growth. At Stage Two, we help companies of all sizes create exceptional user experiences and polished products, because we believe this is an investment utterly worth making.  It’s a tough thing for any internal product or engineering team to face – the thought of an external group nitpicking apart their gem, but it’s worth it.  While there’s certainly religion at Apple, the religion is about the product being exceptional, and that’s the right kind of focus any consumer-facing product company should have as well.

UPDATE: We want to thank everyone for contributing to the discussion here. Special props go out to Cult of Mac for publishing our post to their audience!

Sep 17

Posted by Jeremy Toeman and Greg Franzese

Posted in Gadgets, UI/UX

The 10 Essentials Of Making a Great Boxee Box App

Yesterday Stage Two blogged about Google TV and how developers can best deliver quality interactive content to the living room. Today we continue that theme by examining potential best practices for developing a killer Boxee Box by D-Link App (full disclosure: Stage Two has a professional relationship with Boxee/D-Link). Our goal is to help developers deliver exceptional content that performs flawlessly in the home theater setting, and when it comes to the Boxee Box, the rules are slightly different than they are for the Boxee app on a PC.  This post is to help developers see some of the different nuances involved as the Boxee Box has a remote (no mouse), no PC involve, and will likely be used in a different manner than the computer-based version. Google has a great list of guidelines for smarTV developers and we think all “ten foot experience” developers should embrace their suggestions as a jumping off point.  We’re adding beyond that, hope these help.

10 – Avoid Input Fields At All Costs

The Boxee Box comes with a clever remote that includes a full QWERTY keyboard on its reverse. That is awesome. Scratch that, it’s super-awesome. Hopefully you only use it when you should – specifically when you are searching for something, logging into something, or some other highly meaningful purpose. Content for the interactive television is not the same as content for a computer or mobile device. Smart couch surfing should feel like analogue couch surfing- not in the content delivered, but in the manner in which it is accessed. If your App asks the user to “type” every 2 minutes, you might as well be thinking of a computer experience, not a TV one.

9 – Create Consistent Remote Interaction

Even though Boxee’s glorious 2-sided remote is…well, glorious, do not build your App in such a way that the user is asked to use the front, then the back, then the front again, now flip it just once more…ok, now watch your TV. We got tired just writing that, so don’t ask a user to do it.  Design interactions that are conscientious of how the user will interact, and make it as congruous as possible with the way they are holding that remote.

8 – There is no Back Button

Boxee’s remote operates (primarily) via directional arrows, a menu key and a play/pause button. From the start, developers should anticipate that users will use the left arrow as the back button (like TiVo and other similar devices work). Users may also expect that “menu” will bring them back to the main screen of your App, which is not correct. Instead, the menu key will bring up the Boxee quick interchange menu. Make sure that the navigation of your App is intuitive and well defined.

7 – Make it Move!

As we wrote in our post yesterday, motion is critical to the TV App experience. Making backgrounds that shimmy and shake will engage and retain users. Playstation 3 has an elegant and dynamic menu background that keeps users entertained.

6 – Redirect for Account Creation

If your app requires a login, give the user two options: either they can sign up via the laptop next to them or they can enter their account information right on-screen. Too many current Boxee apps direct the user to a web address to create an account, which works fine when Boxee is installed on your laptop, but much less so in the living room. While we assume that the average Boxee user has other internet enabled devices near them, it still is a frustration to HAVE to go grab your laptop or iPad to start using an app on your television.  Don’t believe us?  We’ll summarize with this way of crystalizing the point, ask yourself this question: “do you believe you will get more or less signups by telling the user to drop their remote, pick up their laptop, enter in some info, confirm via email, go back to the website, then return to their TV experience?”  Yeah, we agree.

5 – Include a “Sit Back and Watch” Mode

Remember that this is TV we’re talking about so computer rules do not apply. Even if you App is text heavy and social, you should consider including some kind of a “chill out and watch” mode. Tumblr has incorporated a passive consumption mode for both pictures and music with great results. Redux (another Stage Two client, for the record – but it’s super-relevant so we included it here) is another good example of proper execution in this vein.

4 – Your Boxee Box App CANNOT Be “Your Website Only Way Bigger”

Just because it’s a 50 screen doesn’t mean people are sitting a foot away from it. Furthermore, websites are meant for a specific type of “lean forward” interaction, and even the Boxee remote in the living room doesn’t change that. Design your features accordingly.  Yep, we said this yesterday too, but it’s just so important to consider that we brought it back around again.

3 – Keep Your Menus Visible When Needed!

Don’t hide menus until the user is watching content, period. Many current Boxee apps have a slick interface similar to Boxee’s that hides the menu in a tray that can be reached by mousing over a portion of the screen. But wait a sec, there’s no mouse to move around anymore!

For a specific suggestion: The user should be able to use the left arrow on the remote to pull the last nav menu back up, but not lose what they are currently watching. When you expose a menu, make sure the content the user was watching is still active and easily visible/reachable.  You can riff off this theme as much as you want, but if your users can’t figure out how to control the features, they’ll soon leave it behind.

2 – Your App Needs a Social Life

When a user “loves” something on Boxee, the Boxee universe knows about it. But what about Facebook and Twitter? The Boxee Box experience is designed to include social features from the start.  Developers should give users an easy way to share media preferences across multiple channels in real time. If your app already has a social aspect like comments or user ratings, display this information on-screen during playback (just be sure to give users the ability to turn that element off easily).

The Justin.tv app does a good job of showing users that 300 other people are currently watching exactly what they are. It reinforces this new thing called “social tv” and begs for user interaction. If you let users know that they are not watching in a vacuum, they are more likely to comment, share, and participate.

1 – HD is Pretty

The Boxee Box supports HD, so if your app does as well, make sure you push that HARD. As Mr. Jobs recently said, “users don’t care about amateur hour” (that is, right before announcing YouTube would appear in their box). Most homes that have a Boxee Box will hook it up to a nice, big HD TV. If you have HD content, don’t hide it, promote it as the best way to watch what you’ve got.

We at Stage Two are extremely excited about watching the TV app ecosystem flourish in 2011.  Boxee already has a huge developer base, and we hope they all consider how to make their apps just as engaging on the Boxee Box as they have on Macs and PCs around the world.  Let’s face it, there’s a tiny tiny handful of folks like us who have ever considered true ten-foot experiences, so this is virgin territory for a lot of people.  But for those of us who have the experience, we think it’s important to share, and help see our industry grow and flourish.

Sep 16

Posted by Jeremy Toeman and Greg Franzese

Posted in UI/UX

Ten Essential Tips For Making a Great Google TV Site

Google TV is nearly upon us and with it comes the “promise” of enhanced, interactive television.

The convergence of TV and the world wide web will create rich, new media experiences for a variety of users. It also demands a new design aesthetic for making the web work in concert with the television. Having spent more than 10 years building over a dozen different types of Internet/TV convergence products, I’ve probably seen more failed attempts at convergence than the sum total of all industry successes. In order to help prevent as much future fail, and to help Google TV developers deliver engaging content in beautiful ways, here are the Top Ten Tips For Making a Great Google TV “Site” (which shouldn’t be the way it works to begin with, but we’ll talk more about that some other time).

10 Avoid Input Fields

Asking users to input text or other information in designated fields makes sense for traditional or mobile websites. Inputting information through a QWERTY device does not translate well to a living room environment (despite Google insisting on a keyboard). Although Google TV will include the ability to enter text via a keyboard, the average user doesn’t want to sit in her living room and feel like she is using a computer with a giant TV for a monitor. Accordingly, only display fields when utterly necessary for input, use buttons and controls whenever possible.

9 Incorporate Animated/Moving Backgrounds

We don’t think much about static backgrounds on the web, but they will look cold and alien when displayed on your television. When was the last time your TV stopped moving (hint: never)? Bingo – consumers’ eyes are inherently expecting motion on their TV – all the time. Google TV developers should incorporate motion as much as possible in their designs. The animated backgrounds of TiVo and the XBOX 360 should serve as examples of what to do correctly here.

8 No Tiny Fonts

Trying to read 10 point Garamond from fourteen feet away seems like a recipe for disaster. Keep the text large, clear and legible. Tip: Google’s specs are pretty good here, pls follow.

7 Use The Entire Screen

Websites and smart phones give us grids and galleries of granular information. Televisions use the entire viewing area. Photos, videos and other GTV content should be big and bold. Information and content needs to fill the entire screen as much as possible.

6 Site Navigation Should Be Via Remote

I’ve seen a few Google TV (and other TV Apps) that have on-screen “Next” or other buttons which imply the user clicks on them to proceed – instead the user should simply click the “right arrow” on their remote (as an example). For a more detailed example, if you are making a photo-viewing app, the click of a right arrow on the remote should scroll through photos on Google TV. Developers should not make users click on tiny on screen buttons or NEXT icons with a mouse or pointer. If the site navigation is difficult or unintuitive, users will abandon the site, no matter how rich the content. Users will be seeking out the apps that “feel” most natural in their TV environment.

5 Google TV CANNOT Be Your Website Only Way Bigger

Just because it’s a 50″ screen doesn’t mean people are sitting a foot away from it. Furthermore, websites are meant for a specific type of “lean forward” interaction, and even a keyboard + Google TV in the living room doesn’t change that.

4 Performance is Critical

TV is instant. It is on demand. It is media made to order right now. Users will have little patience for loading screens or lagging content. Keeping content delivery fast will keep couch potatoes happy.

3 Colors

The use of color is critical when designing for television. Google makes some smart recommendations for Google TV Developers below:

TV screens have higher contrast and saturation levels than computer monitors. Follow these guidelines when working with solid colors:

  • Use pure white (#FFFFFF) sparingly. Pure whites cause vibrancy or image ghosting in TV displays. Instead use #F1F1F1 or 240/240/240 (RGB).
  • Bright whites, reds, and oranges cause particularly bad distortion.
  • Be conscious of various display modes that TVs may have. These include Standard, Vivid, Cinema/Theater, Game, etc. Be sure to test your webpages in all these modes.
  • Be conscious of using large spanning gradients, it may result in banding if not properly tested.
  • Test your website on lower quality displays which may have poor gamma and color settings.

2 Assume the User Has a Computer

And a laptop and an iPhone and a netbook and an android and an iPad. With them. At all times. Users will incorporate Google TV into their media consumption habits and make the service coexist with other devices and habits they have developed. GTV is not meant to replace computers and smart phones, it is meant to compliment them. The best apps will incorporate off-screen interactions via other environments. Think about how to embrace and extend, not replace, as you’ll likely just make a worse experience that was unnecessary to begin with.

1 KISS: Keep it Social, Stupid

In North America, watching television is typically a communal activity with many different people watching the same screen. Whether it is the big game or family movie night, the living room attracts different ages and genders to the same space. Google TV usage models should be geared for groups gathered around the interactive screen. Apps that don’t consider a multi-user experience will be surpassed by those who figure this out.

As many of our readers know, I’m very bearish on Google TV 1.0 (but they will probably do well enough by 3.0, right Microsoft?). But the thing that’ll truly sink the ship is a series of terrible, PC-like experiences blown up onto plasmas in the living rooms. Techies might enjoy, but the masses will reject, and go to simpler solutions. Google TV users want to engage interactive content in new ways but have the experience still feel like the television they know and love. The challenge for Google TV developers is to present a new media experience to the masses and have it feel as familiar as the barcalounger.

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