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Small User Experience Issues Can Become Big Problems In Mobile Video

April 23, 2019
Josh Presnell, CTO at Penthera

Though Netflix has blazed a trail in terms of what viewers watch these days, the company also has a sterling reputation for its user experience, and howconsumers watch. Features like its “Smart Download,” recently rolled out for iOS devices, help ensure that viewers can watch content on the go without worrying about connectivity issues or running out of space on their devices.

Despite the updates, Netflix’s download solution is still not perfect. With mobile viewing on the rise, Netflix and its competitors must address more complex issues associated with the mobile user experience, to ensure that they are delivering optimal playback to on-the-go viewers. It’s not enough to offer diverse features: it’s crucial to consider each feature’s real use cases.

One example of a user experience that requires careful consideration is the capability to queue several episodes to download. Netflix’s download solution is tied closely to the default settings of Apple’s iOS, which allows for multiple video downloads at the same time. This sounds great if you want to load up on several episodes, but trying to download multiple episodes all at once can create more chances for things to go wrong. For example, ahead of a recent flight, I tried to download four episodes of a series on my hotel’s WiFi. Once on the plane before takeoff, I realized that episodes three and four had completed download, but not the first two episodes of the series. For some reason, Netflix does not allow the option to download on cellular, even for someone with an unlimited data plan, so I was stuck.

Example of out-of-order download completions on Netflix

No viewer wants to start a new series from episode three. The real issue here isn’t just the technological one, it’s a customer service problem. A user made the effort to download content in advance, and it was wasted. At the end of the day, the end user really only cares about watching the programming, and they expect a feature like download to help them do it. So when it doesn’t work, it leaves a bad taste in their mouth.

So, why don’t Netflix or Amazon (which runs into similar issues) download episodes strictly in the order users initiate them? Because Apple’s default solution downloads up to three files at a time—and because these OTT providers built features within their apps around Apple’s technology, small changes require a lot of work and could have a domino effect on other parts of the app and user experience.

The issue here isn’t simply about download: there are so many facets of the mobile video experience that even the leaders in the space aren’t considering every possible angle. Beyond downloading on cellular, there are other issues that can arise. What happens when a user starts a download, leaves WiFi, and then comes back to WiFi? Do downloads start over after they’ve failed? Candownloads start over after they’ve failed, or is one failed download all a user has permission for?

These are the questions that Netflix, Amazon, YouTube, Comcast, and others need to answer when building out their mobile apps. Revolutionizing the entertainment experience isn’t simply about using technology, but about enabling a far greater user experience through technology. Android and iOS are made by corporations that have their hands in entertainment, but the operating systems are not designed solely for video viewership. OTT providers would be wise to find ways to avoid such common issues and deliver and improve upon their desired user experience, rather than accept the flaws of default solutions.

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