The Tablet Paradox (aka looking for disruptive User Experience design)

kevin spacey

I am quite interested in User Experience design. We actually do a lot of it at work and we try to take it seriously – we have to. One thing I have increasingly noticed recently is what I now call the ‘Tablet Paradox’ and it suggests (well to me at least) that although tablets initially bought huge innovation to UX design, now in 2016 they have simply become a huge ‘leveller’ and possibly represent a new race to the bottom with an almost standard swipe-based UX creating a ubiquitous and boring website experience. This is especially the case with applications that are not specifically targeted to leverage any of the innovative technology capabilities within the mobile platform such as location awareness, 2-way cameras, movement awareness, and general convergence – and this means almost all websites and ALL corporate websites. This lowest common denominator keeps being reinforced to me when I watch how people interact with devices. In particular, when I watch my son as he interacts within his reality, which is his online world. Yes – he picks up the tablet – and he might swipe through Facebok or Instagram, or send a Snapchat, but if there is any serious interaction – real time interaction then its straight to the PC – and usually within a game – and with a group of friends all online and in the same game. What amazes me is the richness and variety of different PC/game user interfaces he uses and understands – and how he and his teenage buddies whilst focusing on the core activity of killing each other, avoiding being killed, and navigating vast online worlds, will be having a sidebar conversation about what they like and don’t like about the UX – and here I find myself having a bit of a listen. The adaptability is also something to be watched carefully as they navigate the complexity of twin 19 inch monitors running multiple applications and multiple user interfaces, video, and chat all concurrently – but then 5 minutes later go and lie on a beanbag for an hour with just a tablet.

I wanted to think of a good example of a disruptive user experience design so I could use it in design workshops, in particular with corporates who run UX projects with a strategic goal of providing a single UX that will provide the same experience whether running on the most advanced hi-spec dual monitor PCs  or an entry level tablet – this ‘cross-platform consistency’ goal feels a little to me like part of the race to the bottom. My son for one does not look for consistency across platforms,  he looks for which platform is best for what he wants to do and moves between platforms – there is a big disconnect here with this consistency goal – and one that is tricky to address.

Anyway that is the context and here is the example…


Nothing Here, Move on… ABC iView

In our house we use iView via an old PS3 hooked up to the TV (we probably should get an ‘Internet TV’ or a PS4 but the big screen Bravia cost a fortune and had a free PS3). The new iView interface released last year when accessed via PS3 is a shocker. It takes forever to load the images, its a nightmare to navigate the top menus. A bigger nightmare to navigate the show ‘image’ horizontal menus – all different sizes and no logical order that seems remotely obvious – is it chronological? – is it by popularity?. For a while you still could access the ‘classic’ interface via a PS3 browser session. It was fast and efficient. That is also when I realised all they had done was simply re-skinned the UI. I wonder if I can ‘register’ and ‘customise’ my profile – so 90s!! – Seriously what a poor evolution of UX and definitely no disruption here.

sbs on demand

Nothing Here Move on…SBS On Demand

Mmmmh slightly better. I am sure there is some irony here as the SBS UX was probably delivered on a tenth of the iView redesign budget. The left side old school menus are functional, navigation is easy and the side-bar works quite well with the inner image based menus. But alas no disruption here.


Stop the Bus – Disruptive UX design here…Netflix

Sure not a bad UX to use – intuitive with some neat ‘it remembers me’ features but the overall UX is not where the disruption is. By now you have guessed where it is, right? – and yes it is a game-changer and one so simple that its described in a beautifully understated way on the Netflix Online Help: “Netflix’s Post-Play feature will give a brief countdown before automatically playing the next episode for you”. It started way back in 2012  as the UX team began playing around with various ways to do it. You sit there and when the episode finishes you watch a countdown  timer  ‘in seconds’ before the next episode starts which you usually then watch. This single small UX feature has changed our viewing habits and evolved ‘binge-watching’ from old-school 80s midnight cine-plex marathons, and beyond 90s DVD Box sets, to now completely change the whole streaming and distribution model in ways that are probably irreversible. Watch one episode at a time?  – bah – never again. Offer me one episode at a time – no way! – Yes – you can turn it off in the settings but who wants to do that… I started watching the first season of ‘House of Cards’ about a month ago, had heard it was great but had never got around to it – after binge-watching the first season I realised Season Four was out in March. Thinking Season Four would surely be one episode per week I quickly moved through Season Two and Season Three planning that things would then slow down with Season Four and one episode per week only to discover after episode one that the full Season Four was available for immediate ‘binge’. Well that’s all over now, it was over in just a few nights and days of avoiding friends and ALL social media to remain spoiler-free, and now, well, I just have to die for a year or so waiting for Season 5. This is not the way I watched two seasons of Special Agent Dale Cooper in Twin Peaks, and it is not the way I watch iView – Netflix what a beautifully disruptive little piece of UX design you have delivered.

Have you got any other great examples of Disruptive UX design. I would love to hear of them? – I am still trying to think of others as simple but as influential.

next episode


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2 Responses to The Tablet Paradox (aka looking for disruptive User Experience design)

  1. Matthew says:

    What do you see then as the difference between disruptive vs innovative?

    The Netflix example strikes me as good UX process (eg constant feedback, iteration, research) or perhaps innovative UX, but it hasn’t fundamentally changed the video industry or the way consumers interact with technology so not sure how disruptive its been. Netflix as a whole though has obviously been disruptive to the video consumption market and disrupted the old brick and mortar store out of the market.

    Would disruptive UX would be things like rich touch UI (iPhone), responsive design (web 2.0) etc, all of those redefined how we engage, build and interact with technology, forcing consumers and creators to adapt. Those sort of disruptions tend to be synchronous with new technologies though.

    Interesting topic anyway, look forward to seeing if you expand on it or have any further thoughts on the above.

  2. Claude Mono says:

    Hi Matthew I don’t think I agree “it hasn’t fundamentally changed the video industry or the way consumers interact with technology” – that little feature has been a game-changer for how Netfix has been positioned amongst its peers in the streaming segment – sure they all will do it now and iView and SBS are just easy examples of laggers. I do agree with you that examples such as iPhone and web 2.0 are more ‘technology enabler’ focused, they are also quite ‘macro’ – I am really looking for ‘micro’ and sharp well defined examples with a pure UX emphasis – they are hard to find. – one I was thinking about today was how Google Streeview has combined with the ‘internal’ streetview so you can click direct in streetview into a venue 3D walkaround and how I am now seeing this being taken up by restaurant and review sites so you can access the review from what you see in front of you or have a look at inside where you will be going from the review – a bit niche and more a web 2.0 usage but I know but I can see some clever visualisation new UX in the ‘ restaurant/venue/office rental etc etc review’ space

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