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Netflix ditches Webkit to roll out slick new UI for smart TVs, Roku boxes and game consoles

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Netflix (s NFLX) rolled out a big revamp of its user interface for smart TVs and connected devices Tuesday night, moving away from a grid of box shot covers towards a much more visual interface that features large still images and more details on each show or movie.

The new UI will be available on Xbox (S MSFT) 360, PlayStation (S SNE) 3, PlayStation 4 as well as Roku 3 devices and newer smart TVs and Blu-ray players (2013 and 2014 models) to Netflix members worldwide in the next two weeks. Other devices, including some older Roku players, will receive the update over the coming months. There are no plans to bring the new UI to Apple (s AAPL) TV and Xbox One.

Netflix Screenshot

One of the aspects that Netflix has refined is search. The new app auto-suggests titles after users type as little as a single letter, and also allows to search for actors and directors across Netflix’s catalog. Also improved is the initial loading when users start to play a title. Gone is the red splash screen. Instead, the app switches straight from the menu into the stream.

This new UI is Netflix’s biggest revamp of its TV interface thus far, in part because of a lot of the underlying plumbing. Previously, Netflix was building its TV app user interface in HTML5, which allowed the company to quickly iterate on minor changes and A/B-test various features with a subset of its subscribers.

But in order to make HTML5 work, Netflix actually shipped a stripped-down version of the Webkit browser as part of its app, which in turn meant that it had fewer resources left to add features. The result was that it had to tweak its app for each platform, and leave out some features on cheaper and less powerful devices — which is why Roku boxes for example never had access to individual profiles.

With the new UI, all of this changes. Netflix decided to ditch Webkit as a rendering engine and instead build a native platform for the most common connected device chipsets out there, circumventing the various smart TV SDKs in the process. The company even decided to develop its own voice recognition technology to make voice input consistent across platforms, and not have the Xbox implementation differ from implementations on smart TVs that come with support for voice input.

Netflix started working on this new platform 18 months ago, and secretly tested it in people’s living rooms for months: The company started migrating PS3 users away from Webkit and to the new architecture with an update in the spring — but it’s unlikely anyone noticed, because the Netflix team rebuilt the old UI on top of the new platform. In addition, it tested the new user interface with several hundred thousand new subscribers on the PS3.

Netflix has traditionally tested some of its more advanced features on the PS3 first. But with the new platform, it will now bring feature-parity to all devices, and for example allow Roku users to finally use profiles and autoplay to quickly fire up a new TV show episode after ending another.

Here’s a video of the new user interface:

This post was updated at 10:52 to clarify which devices are going to receive the update, and when.

12 Responses to “Netflix ditches Webkit to roll out slick new UI for smart TVs, Roku boxes and game consoles”

  1. I loathe and despise the new Netflix interface I get with my ROKU 3. What a colossal screw-up. VERY annoying. All the insipid, in-your-face images gives me headache and eye strain. The tiny scrolling icons are impossible to read, squashed as they are into the bottom of the tv screen. And yet the icons are the very reason I’m in that search screen to begin with…I don’t go to the search screen to be bombarded with movie trailers. Wake up Netflix! Your designers are incompetent…they are marketers at heart and so they fail miserably at customer satisfaction. How dare they fill the top half of my tv screen with constantly changing images! It’s very like the moronic advertising that caused me to drop my cable to begin with. Netflix listen up: It’s unreasonable to force a customer to suffer through this asinine design simply to find a movie. There’s WAY too much movement on what should be a simple search screen. I feel certain this design is ultimately damaging to the eyes. I personally experience an unsettling nausea after a few minutes of this torture. And it’s not my imagination — I know sea sickness when I feel it. In short, the new interface makes me puke.

    The Netflix design team should have their collective behinds seriously kicked. They fail to understand the elegant simplicity of the previous Netflix interface I had with my ROKU 2, and what a pleasing experience it provided. And they fail to understand that they’ve killed off some of the most useful and endearing features of the previous interface. Trashing useful features that enhance the customer experience, and replacing them with in-your-face movie trailers, stinks of marketing mentality. Go do your marketing elsewhere; this customer has been marketed to death through years with the cable company I’ve cut.

    I’m returning my disappointing ROKU 3 to Staples where I bought it, and if I cannot find a ROKU 2 to replace it, I’ll kill my Netflix subscription and find a competitor. If you want my money, be responsible, and earn it by listening. I do want your service Netflix, but I will not suffer annoyance and nausea with your new interface just to keep your service. Forget that.

  2. Probably more visually appealing now as compared to previous UI, but imagine the absurdity of rewinding digital movies! Give me ‘play from beginning’ or give me death! At least there are still no obligatory commercial breaks or advertisement banners … Yet.

  3. Elizabeth

    Netlix’s new interface is absolutely horrible. There is no way to see new releases. No way to see new additions. No way to see movies separated from TV series. It is almost completely unusable. Obviously only designed to collect information on our preferences and not to actually help us find what we want to watch. We now have to use our cable or amazon watch service instead. So sad we will have to cancel netfilx after all these years bc of their own greed and stupidity.

  4. Billy Dodd

    I do not like the new format of Netflix. Can not see the boxes, wasted hugh background picture, cannot start play from beginning, Catagory function is gone, search function is different. All in all, I want the old interface back.

    • Agree with John S. & Billy, how could these guys miss the start play from beginning?

      I also can’t browse movies by going into the detail of a movie (menu where you can select to play movie but also see complete movie description and actors) and then moving to the next by pressing the left or right buttons. Now trying to do this brings me back to the main screen…

      I’m not against the new format but we lost with this change…

      If we are wrong and this functionality IS present, please correct us…


    np “Play from Beginning”, this was a great feature! Who was the idiot that deleted this? Probably some college grad that thinks he has all the answers!!! Bring back ” PLAY FROM BEGINNING”!!!!

  6. Davi Baltierra

    At 70 years old it’s very hard to read 2 point letters to search for movies on my 42″ screen! The pause doesn’t work, you have no resume: so when you attempt to repeat what you missed you have to start the bloody show all over again. It’s a beautiful UI, but guys remember, the apps for mobile are cool but we are stay at home users….mom and dad! I think we’re 30% or more of your user market. HTML5/Webkit for us was working fine on our PS3, but Christ the new UI is not totally manageable yet. Please bring program back the features that were working great. If it ain’t broke why fix it?! The user functions on this UI are all over the place.

  7. Michael Scott

    I don’t think that this information is entirely correct. I just got the new interface this morning on TiVo Roamio and PS3 and the change happened without any new firmware or resident code for the Netflix player being downloaded, just as changes to the HTML5/Webkit app has happened the past. I just ran the Netflix app and *bam*, it’s the new one. Now it’s going to take a firmware change for this to happen on some platforms, like Roku 3, but the platforms currently using HTML5/Webkit seem to still be using HTML5/Webkit.