User Interface & The Triple Play Challenge


“As a frustrated user of Comcast’s Soviet-era on-screen navigation, I can only cheer on any competitive offering, in the hope that all boats will rise,” Paul Kapustka, deftly using deliciously cruel words, sums up the rage and feelings of many of the cable company customers.

But he does bring up an important issue: the critical role user experience will have in consumption of triple play services, that are suppose to line the coffers of carriers. User Interface is one of the most overlooked aspects of triple play.

A set-top box of today (and tomorrow) is a virtual Pandora’s box: video on demand, on screen caller ID, digital video recorder and hundreds of television channels. Adding web content to the mix is only going to pose more challenges. As carriers -cable & telcos- offer a wide array of services over their pipes, they will have to work hard to simplify the end-consumption experience.

As iPod has shown us, average folks will embrace complex technologies if they are made simple and easy to use. Given the track record of carriers – both cable and telecoms – a quiet sigh does escape our lips. That doesn’t mean that there is hope.

We are all waiting with baited breath for TiVo to be grafted onto Comcast’s set-top boxes, hoping that anything will be an improvement over the current offering. There are some US cable operators (like the ones offering Moxi set-top boxes) that do have a decent user interface that helps the TV watching public navigate through complex choices.

Some telcos seem to have realized this, and putting some serious effort into their UI. For example, Verizon’s FiOS TV. Paul seems to like the limited edition release (available in Fort Wayne, Indiana now, but available as a software update for others later this summer) of the new UI for its FiOS TV media guide.

It compares favorably with AT&T’s HomeZone interface. AT&T’s U-Verse, in comparison seems to be tortured.

The ability to simplify the UI will remain a challenge and will become even more acute as customers get used to the simpler experiences, such as the one offered on AppleTV.

PS: If you have seen a UI that impresses you, and would like to share it with us, email us at info at gigaom dot com.


Rob Freeborn

After travelling around and seeing what my friends live with on a day to day basis, I have to say that the UI I have for my TW HD box here in Manhattan is the best that I’ve seen from a major manufacturer/cable provider.

Does it have some of the nice features of a Tivo like automatically recording for every Keanu Reeves movie when it sees me watch the Matrix once? No, but it sure is easy and fast to use!

Ryan Lane

10 foot UIs are a place that sadly needs some standardization. I have to agree that Tivo, Apple TV, Xbox 360 are all good at doing what they do in that environment. Why can’t the people who have the strongest presence on TVs like the cable companies see the value in this? I mean except for the fact that they haven’t had any competition really until now.

Dave Zatz

Todd, have you used it? I found it disorienting and requiring too much movement/activity. When I want motion control, I’ll fire up the Wii. ;)

(Granted, I had just a few minutes with the remote/interface – more time is needed before passing final judgment. And of course they need partners in order to deploy.)

Todd Klein


The best thing I’ve seen isn’t out just yet, but it’s Hillcrest Labs ring remote and software platform. The key is navigation, bringing the computer-mouse experience to the tv.

Jonathan Hirshon

Actually, the UI on my DirecTV HD box is pretty darned good – it’s not Tivo, but FAR better than the visual purgatory that is the Moto UI on Comcast’s box…

I could be wrong, but I believe the DirecTV UI is from Pace, in the UK?

cheers, JH

David Millsaps

Right on, Om. UI is the reason Apple is the powerhouse it is right now. Microsoft got a clue on the 360 and let’s hope it matriculates back into Windows. Customers are starting to realize that UI is the reason they like certain products and hate others.
While the iPhone will expose this trend in the mobile space, we have seen it in the past with Nokia’s devices vs everyone else as well as Verizon’s own tasteless interface offerings.

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