On the happy occasion of a bug fix by way of which my list of recently watched titles reappeared in the new Netflix app for XBox, I unleashed a tirade on Twitter against the rest of what’s wrong with the app, namely, a handful of new features. I’ve adapted my rant for the blog, added a useful photo, and corrected one error I note below.
So, for starters, the new Netflix for XBox autoplays the next episode of a TV show, for example, instead of just showing you the list or the title’s info screen and letting you pick what (and when) to play. It’s possible I’ll get used to this, but I don’t feel at that stage like I’ve asked the system to play anything, so it’s annoying and obtrusive and hides what I really want, which is a list of episodes. Also, it’s wrong about my current episode and cue point more than half the time, where the previous app did land me on the appropriate episode almost 100% of the time. So get that sorted and maybe we can talk.
The inability to see an info screen without the app autoplaying means that to get more info about a title, you have to select it in the browse view and then just sit and wait for more info to scroll up, on the timeline Netflix determined was most useful for us all. This is a classic example of what I’ve called #fux (“F___ You” + “user experience”): The app punishes your simple desire to learn more about a title by making you sit and wait or making you start watching. I wonder if Netflix gets payed for every second of video you play.
As for the new Netflix App’s browse view itself: The new “Let’s show a million movies so you all get a sense of our awesome selection” layout (see the conclusion of this post for more on that rationale), pictured at right, means that you can only see the titles of three browsing categories at a time. The old layout allowed you to see five, but more importantly, the categories seemed easier to navigate because they were immediately adjacent to one another, not separated by rows of images. In fact, in the new Netflix app, the category titles are superimposed on those images (or, in the uppermost category’s case, well washed out into the strong red background—as pictured at right). Their scannability in the old version made them much easier to use.
(In a Tweet, I had incorrectly suggested that you could see “eight or ten” categories at a time. I take this factual inaccuracy as a faithful reflection of my subjective experience of the difference between the two apps in terms of ease-of-use.)
Finally, it’s a minor gripe, but when I’ve landed on a certain title in the browse view, after about three seconds, the image of the cover is replaced by a seemingly random still from the title (as pictured above, like that will somehow help me make my decision about whether to watch. Instead, it just makes it harder to to get a reminder of which title I’m looking at, because of the spatial separation between the still and the name of the title (if you’ll pardon an awkward phrase). The stills are also sort of aggressively less engaging than the covers—which have been designed and tested, it’s worth saying, to get your attention and get the right people watching the right content. It’s a useless, counterproductive “feature”—and a spoiler risk—that I can’t believe somebody at Netflix green-lit.
And I guess that’s my point. I know I’m outside the target audience for autoplay (though I wonder if there really is one in this case), but this new layout—who does it serve? In his announcement of the new app on the Netflix Blog, Director of Product Innovation Chris Jaffe writes, “You really get a sense [from the new layout] of the depth of movies and TV shows available with a simple and elegant interface optimized for TV.” That rationale is so clearly driven not by user-experience but, defensively, by the critique that Netflix’s Watch Instantly library is mediocre. Stuffing a bunch of extra images down users’ throats is really a self-defeating measure, if the idea is to portray Netflix’s online streaming as a higher-quality service than current perceptions would have it.