This morning, I went on a twitter long form kvetch due to a tech fail this weekend. I’m a mom, in addition to being a reader I’m raising one. The picture at left is my eldest, laying in her bed reading on her kindle with a booklight clipped to her pillow. Her brother is curled up in his bed, also with a Kindle — but this one is a Fire and he’s watching a movie. Like kids born this century, they took to electronics as a method of entertainment as naturally as the Legos scattered all over my living room floor and Transformers crashing into Hot Wheels while the Galactic Heroes stormtroopers fight off Voltron. They’ve learned letters with Endless Alphabet, watched videos, built robots, driven BB-8 around the living room, practiced writing and drawing without having to toss endless pieces of paper, learned about chemical elements and generally had fun.
Where we haven’t been raising Millennial kids is in terms of television. Until 2014, we had a CRT television, then we upgraded our component system with a new receiver, new BluRay player, new flat panel television and all run by our existing Logitech Harmony remote. Now, we’re thinking of cutting the cord. We figure, with both in school now is a great time to cut expenses. We’ve got Netflix, we’ve got Amazon Prime…we just need a few things until Disney comes out with their own streaming service to solve our need for occasional live television.
We watch mainly 6 channels: Disney, AMC, TNT, BBC America, and two local networks. Most providers for streaming offer the “local” channels without worry and almost everyone offers Disney. The rest (TNT, BBC America, AMC) are being debated based on what the show is and how much of a pain the network site is to get the show being missed. For our first test, we try Hulu TV and YouTube TV.
Hulu we can stream via our BluRay, but not the live stuff. YouTubeTV is only available via Chromecast or newer televisions. The Chromecast is an easy $35 purchase to try out and I have no problem returning if this week fails miserably.
It fails. Mostly because I’m unwilling to use a tablet/smart phone as a remote. As you can see, we have no problem with technology in the house. That’s our charging station. It holds our Wii U controller and changing pad for the normal wii-motes, a spot to charge Android and Apple phones and watches, cords for the two Android tablets, the iPad mini, the Kindle Fire and the two reading Kindles as well as a drop zone for headphones, the BB-8 Sphero and Sphero Mini. Usually the problem is finding something that has a charge and the activity you want.
I thought that the Chromecast would look and feel like my BluRay or television menus — where I can use up/down left/right and select buttons to navigate between apps. From there, I’d be able to get to YouTube TV or Sling or Hulu or whatever — even Netflix if we’re so inclined. Nope. Not even a little bit.
I can turn Chromecast on via the Harmony remote. I get a gorgeous painting or picture from Getty Images to fill my television. That’s where I stop being able to use a physical remote. You want YouTubeTV? Great, get your phone, launch the YouTubeTV app and hit the cast button. You want to pause the show you’re watching? make sure you didn’t put it down on the charger since you’ll need it to pause / change channels / start a different show / rewind / fast forward over commercials. Not an actual remote, and not a different device. So if my husband was to turn on Disney channel with the YouTubeTV app on his phone after dinner while I’m doing dishes (he cooks, I clean), and then went to work, well…tough.
Help Desk guy: most people have a cheap tablet that they leave with the television.
me: why would I want to do that? I have a cheap tablet but we’re busy using it as a tablet and I have a remote for this purpose.
Help Desk guy: well, you could just tell your Google Home device to pause the tv.
me: the Google Home device I don’t have?
Help Desk guy: you could get one.
me: so you want me to buy a voice activated thing to turn on my entire system in a multi-step process in order to be able to pause/play/change channels later with one action instead of developing something that works with a remote?
Help Desk guy: …huh.
Yeah, let’s think about that. I love technology, it has amazing uses. But part of what drives voice activation is ease of use. If I have developed a routine on a device that can be voice activated it should be easy…. like right now, my 4yo can say “Alexa, turn on tv” and the device accesses a skill for Logitech’s Harmony remote which runs the routine to: turn on my receiver and set to HDMI in 2 and out 1, the television on and the DVR on and then set to channel 289. We could change that to be a routine that turns on the receiver for HDMI in 4 (chromecast) and out 1, the television on and then he’d get a pretty picture with the time and temperature. There’s no way, that we’ve discovered, to then turn on YouTube TV or any of the other available chromecast apps and put on a specific channel. To do this, we’d need to acquire another home AI device, teach the kids a new trigger phrase, and then the appropriate new clue words “cast xxx app to Disney” — something we can do with one button or one normal sound command right now.
What triggered all this? My little man stumbled downstairs this morning, realized he as chilly and after saying good morning to me asked our Amazon Echo for the weather tomorrow. He hasn’t figured out yet that he needs to ask for now or today instead since we usually ask at night to pick out clothes for the next day. Our Alexa responded to his request with the weather in Mobile, Alabama. We’re in North Carolina.
People in #UX…I’m not asking you design a thing to make it so a 4yo can watch television without adult interaction. I’m wondering how you answer an adult with a speech problem…or my mother who wants to turn on the news while she’s here…or someone who just wants to leave her phone on a charger across the room and pause the television to get another cup of tea.