When buying a TV in 2019, it is natural to expect it to be a smart TV. While different brands interpret the ‘smart’ tag differently, there’s one common thread among all smart TVs – apps. While some TVs labelled as ‘smart’ give you full control of the apps you can install or remove from your system, some come with a pre-loaded list that is pretty much frozen. However, in both cases, the main access point for the user to experience the ‘smart’ aspect of the TV is through apps. This goes to show how important apps are to the smart TV experience.
However, any random app simply ported to the platform cannot offer users a good experience on TV. The television platform has completely different guidelines when it comes to an optimal user experience, which must be incorporated into the design of the app itself. To understand what makes an app good for television, let us look at some such guidelines and their good examples.
TVs are often referred to as the 10ft experience because that’s how far a typical user is seated. This constraint brings in a lot of variables to designing for TV. The big screen available makes the platform suitable for more of a cinematic experience, while being simple to use. Taking the example of Android TV, an app allows the user to browse content, look at detailed information, consume content and even search within the app.
Android allows the app developer to enhance the user experience at each stage with things like background images, limiting the amount of text that can be put on a screen, providing media status in a bold, easy to understand way and more. A great example of this is the Netflix app on Android TV, which implements all the above practices. It offers big, cinematic content previews and background visuals without showing too much textual content on one screen.
Navigation and Input
The focus on simplicity in smart TV app design comes from a few constraints. First, there’s no touch or cursor interaction available here in most cases. Second, a lot of people use the television for casual consumption and offering them a complex interface is not ideal in this setting. An app designed for the TV should have minimum number of steps between the app launch and content consumption. There should also be an easy way to navigate considering that most users only have the D-pad of a controller available. This means that the design should feature horizontal or vertical rows to navigate in, along with clear indication of what’s in focus.
Buttons and menus beyond the in-app content should also be clearly distinguished from the content itself, e.g a search button. On the other end, the app should ideally take care of more complex common controllers such as gamepads being connected as well. Google has done a great job with the Google Play Music app when it comes to these aspects. Offering an easy choice between Listen now (recommendations), My library and Instant mixes, the app makes it easy and simple to enjoy your favorite music on your TV.
Smart TV features
Like all good apps for all platforms, apps for TV should also be feature-rich. While some might say that this goes against the ‘simplicity’ guideline for TV app design, features can be added while keeping TV usability in mind. A smart TV is connected to the internet and usually that happens via the same local network that is shared by several of your devices. A great example of a TV app that takes advantage of this connectivity is Plex.
It brings you the ability to stream your media library by setting up the TV app on the same network as a local PC or laptop connected to the same network. This system is where the Plex Media server is usually running. This app also allows you to add some plugins to stream Netflix and other platform content. All of this is done through a user experience that is highly suitable for the big screen.
Beyond these three areas and the apps that are their best examples, here are some apps that you should keep handy for your new smart TV.
Like this article? Also read: The best gaming TVs available right now
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