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Even Cox Doesn’t Like Its Existing UI

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While the ISP part of Cox Communications is busy interfering with its customers’ BitTorrent traffic, the cable part of the company is trying to improve its customers’ experience. The country’s third-largest cable operator tapped NDS Group earlier this week to revamp its user interface. Not only will the redesign unify Cox’s different digital offerings, but it’s also a step towards keeping up with some of the rival upstart hardware makers as they vie for the home video-delivery crown.

Cox thinks its current cable UI is too complicated. “What we have out there today is not consistent is nor easy to use,” Lisa Pickelsimer, Cox’s director of product development, told me by phone. “The navigation has an ad hoc feel; that happened because historically we rolled out different services and had to tack them on. It started with linear programing, and then we started adding VOD and DVR and the email viewer. That resulted in the user feeling like they are interacting with different applications. We just want to make it easy.”

To achieve that easy feeling, the redesign will streamline the company’s different video offerings like regular TV, recording and VOD into one user interface.

The new design, which will begin rolling out on HD and HD DVR legacy boxes next year, consolidates all of these services and even interactive applications like games into the same interface. This will allow Cox to execute better search by delivering results that exist not only in the linear programming guide, but also include VOD content and even material already stored on the user’s DVR.

And while it won’t be in the initial version, Cox will also enable more social features like recommendations through its new UI. You’ll be able to check out what your friends liked, or send recommendations directly to them.

The need for a better user experience is imperative as other hardware makers jump into the set-top box fray. Companies like TiVo, Apple and Vudu are showing consumers what a decent UI looks like, while just-announced Sezmi thinks its cheaper, on-demand-centric approach can get you to dump cable altogether. I’ve already been skeptical of these newcomers’ chances at succeeding. If Cox and other cable companies get their acts together with shiny new interfaces (paging Comcast) — PLUS have them run on existing boxes in people’s homes — these wannabes are toast.