• Building the Next Remote Control: Kinect is Just the First Step

    Today, I'm pleased to share a guest post from Alan Wolk, Global Lead Analyst at KIT Digital. As Alan points out, the Xbox Kinect technology has helped open up a new world of possibilities for navigating video content on TVs (I was recently in KIT's offices and played with their Kinect Sky TV app, which I thought was amazing). Beyond Kinect however, further technology improvements are coming, all of which means the remote control is poised to move far beyond its humble roots. Read on to learn more.

    Building the Next Remote Control: Kinect is Just the First Step

    by Alan Wolk

    In the pre-cable TV world, the remote control was a truly amazing device. It allowed viewers to raise and lower the volume without getting out of their chair, while jumping seamlessly between the handful of channels that were available.

    The advent of cable TV made the remote a little more complicated: with 20 or 30 channels in the line-up, the remote now needed a keypad to enter the actual channel number. The more channels cable systems added, the more critical the remote became. But around the time we moved from dozens of channels to hundreds of them, it become evident that a better system was needed: scrolling through so many channels ten at a time was not particularly time efficient, especially since viewers knew the names of channels they wanted to watch, not their constantly shifting numbers.

    That was when search was added to the mix. It worked off the set-top box and required the user to hunt and peck their way through a non-QWERTY on-screen keyboard using the remote. This was anything but simple, but it was the only way to navigate through the increasingly complex experiences created as providers added on-demand and DVR content to the list of available content. Remote controls with slide-out keyboards were about as far as the industry had gotten when the pent-up demand for new ways to interact with the TV finally saw fruit.

    Step 1 was smartphone-based remote controls, which rolled out about a year or so ago. These generally replicated the existing remote control on a smartphone screen, while providing built-in keyboard functionality. Unfortunately users did not take to the new apps. They were impractical: you needed to take out your phone, turn it on (most phones auto-lock after a few minutes of inactivity), open the app and then hope you were still connected to the STB.

    Now remote controls and navigation are changing in a meaningful way. The advent of TV on the Xbox gives birth to a truly remarkable feature that lets users rely on voice and hand gestures to control the TV via Xbox’s Kinect technology. KIT Digital built these into an app for Sky TV and though I've spent lots of time with the app, it still feels like a trip to the future. Though there are more refinements that need to be made before it becomes a full-time replacement for the remote control, it’s easy to see how hand gestures could soon become the norm for navigation.

    Beyond Kinect, voice recognition software is getting much more accurate, and, thanks to Apple’s Siri, more popular. And of course, with rumors swirling about a possible television set from Apple, even more ways to navigate are likely on the way.

    So now comes the hard part: figuring out which combination of voice, hand gestures and remote control feels right. Will people want to change channels with a voice command, flip between adjacent channels with hand gestures and program their DVR via an app? Or something completely different?

    Some of things UX teams will have to consider are where the action takes place (in front of the TV or elsewhere), what seems like the most natural way to accomplish the action, and, most importantly, is there sense in making a one-size-fits all experience or allowing viewers to heavily customize it?

    Television viewing won’t be the only thing that will be informed by the evolution of this interface. The lessons will be applied to all aspects of our digitally enabled world, from self-driving cars to banking to retail checkout.   When you stop to think about what's coming in the future world of digital navigation, it's pretty mind-boggling.