Apple TV vs Roku – UX + UI For Senior Citizens

Apple TV streaming device.

I have a Roku and I love it. But for my father, the only web-enabled device he needed was the the Apple TV.

Here’s why.

Several years ago, my dad (a senior citizen) wanted a computer. I knew I should get him a Mac, but he became convinced that he needed a PC. A trusted family member  (an IT professional) stressed that a Windows PC was the best option. Plus, it was cheaper than the iMac I was hawking. So we bought an IBM-brand PC (before it became Lenovo), loaded it with RAM, and connected him to the Internet.

For about a year, it was a great little machine. And then it started being a PC. It got fussy and occasionally crashed. It would do odd, PC-type things. I’d come over every couple of weeks to fix it up with new patches, defrag, and perform other minor maintenance. It was a lousy user experience (UX) and user interface (UI).

After a few years of frustrations, my dad broke down and bought a new computer. This time, a shiny new iMac. Two years later, I’ve only had to go to his house to download a few patches and install some games. That’s it. No crashing, no quirky personality traits. Just a computer that he uses to connect to the Internet and play his games. Nice UX and UI.

Apple TV vs. Roku
Flash forward to now. I’ve had my Roku for a month or more. My father is impressed and wants one. I show him how easy it is to use. He nods and says, “I heard that Apple makes one.”

I tell him that in my online research, Roku is getting better reviews. It is more flexible and open and may eventually be one of the online leaders.

And although the Roku has a USB port for pictures and videos, he wants something easier. The Apple TV does something that the others currently do not, which is connect with his iMac.

Yes there’s WiFi and of course he can use NetFlix on both of them, but my father wanted something much more utilitarian. He wants to show photos from his iMac on his television. He wants it to be easy and instant. No USB keys, no file transfers, and no wires. And if you’re already a Mac user, you want Apple’s ease-of-use. It’s all about UX.

Roku views pictures, but only if you tap into streaming Facebook. That Roku Facebook channel is fine for the pictures that you’ve uploaded, but we have too many family photos to upload for that to be practical.

Tapping directly into iPhoto is something that only Apple TV can do right out of the box. There’s no need to run cables or copy files to a USB. Apple’s closed ecosystem makes a lot of sense, particularly when the user is a senior citizen who just wants to use his stuff. Apple’s walled-garden approach offers a level of comfort, consistency, and compatibility that you cannot always achieve buying components.

For me, the flexibility and scalability of the Roku is perfect. It’s exactly what I need, since my primary interest is NetFlix and web-video streaming. I am a digital power user who blogs, tweets, uses TV apps, and reads ebooks.

For my father, the Apple TV is ideal because it becomes part of a series of networked devices that work well for people who want it to work with the minimum of technical experience.

If you’re in the market, I hope this little story-based scenario was helpful to you. Good luck and drop me a line if you have any specific questions about what you should buy.

Roku XDS – Day 1

Today is Day 1 with the new Roku XDS. Right after the CES 2011 announcements, I surveyed the new technology and determined that the Roku was the right technology for me. Well, for now, at least.

For those not familiar, the Roku is one of many devices that streams Internet video to your television. NetFlix and Hulu are among the best-known streaming sources, but there are others out there. The actual Roku is just a small box that connects your television to the Internet with a pretty menu. If you want to learn more, read the New York Times series on The Sofa Wars. I wrote a piece called Web Meets Living Room, if you want to check that out too.

Two important points influenced my gadget buying decision:

  1. First, the device had to work on an analog television. Most devices, including the Boxee and the Apple TV were strictly for televisions with HDMI connections. Roku offers both HDMI and RCA connections, and I needed RCA.
  2. Second, it had to be easy. Really easy. Reading reviews suggested that Boxee was a little more challenging than Roku because it offers more options. That’s fine for me, but the rest of the family wants easy.

I bought the Roku XDS, which is the top of the line model for $99.

So, setup was easy. You plug it in, it boots up, looks for a connection, and you’re ready to go. You do have to register for a Roku.com account and give them a credit card, but there is no Roku subscription fee. The credit card is for making purchases, I suppose.

Connecting NetFlix was also really simple. I’ve already linked NetFlix to the Wii, the iPad, the iPod Touch, and obviously my computer (iMac). Adding it to Roku was just as easy and within minutes, we were watching movies in our Instant Queue. Simple.

There was a weird problem with a connection error. NetFlix offered a live chat option and Steve, the customer service guy, was able to help me fix it within about 15 minutes. He instructed me to hold the reset button on the bottom of the box for 60 seconds and then let the system reboot. That worked, and I haven’t had a problem yet.

So far, I have hooked up a bunch of widgets that help you stream content. So far I’ve added an application that allows me to see photos from my Facebook account, something that gives me the local weather, and a really nice app that pulls news from different television channels.

Initial impressions:

  • Video quality is better than expected. Nice clear picture and sound with no problems syncing.
  • Control panel on Roku.com website is too basic. NetFlix is a better model because you can add and remove content from your computer or your television and it all works together. I’d like to see my apps and other resources through my web login, so that if I had to, I could add and remove features remotely.
  • So far, I haven’t found a way to search for video content beyond the offered channels. There’s a site called Clicker.com that has an amazing service, but I haven’t really figured out how to get it to work on the Roku. I read that you can make it work through NetFlix, but I really think it would be nice to have an actual widget or app of Clicker.com. There appear to be other widgets that provide similar resources, so I will be checking those out for sure.

We’ve had the Internet in my living room for a long time now, streamed through my PowerBook. But now it’s up on the TV screen, which is a natural and comfortable way to consume video content. A nice sofa beats an office chair any day.

At one time, the most advanced technology we had in our entire house was the television. But then the computer came, and the television felt like a relic of the past. In a reversal of fortune for the humble television, video streaming devices like the Roku — and some really impressive new TVs — are pulling people back into the family room.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I am going to hop off the computer and go watch television. For a change.

More good readin’:

3D, TV Apps, Web TV & the Jetsons

“We need to do something with 3D TV,” your clients will soon say. If you work in advertising, get ready for questions about 3D TV, TV Apps, and the next generation of Web TV devices.

The future of television is happening right now. The Jetsons TV has arrived.

Widespread adoption of new technologies is probably being slowed by the recession. In boom times, you’d see consumers with more disposable income for fun technology upgrades.

So, if you’re in marketing and advertising, this is the time to get ahead of the curve. If you wait until the client asks you about how to leverage 3D television or TV Apps from Yahoo, or Boxee, you’re going to be reacting.

You want to be educated about new technology and helping the client to make the right decision for their brand. In some cases, you may need to steer the client away from some hot new technology and into something that makes more sense for their marketing strategy.

Believe me, friends, I plan to find a way to use this television-based technology in something profitable for my clients. But it has to be the right client with the right message.

Just ‘cuz it’s snazzy and fun, doesn’t mean it will convert. We’re not here to entertain. We’re here to connect message with target audience, and motivate them to take action.

If that message works in 3D, so be it. If it’s a TV app, great. If it flows through the Boxee, terrific. If not, well, then leave the futuristic stuff to the Jetsons, and get on with delivering results to your client.

In the meantime, get one for home and watch Jetsons reruns. And let me know why we don’t have flying cars yet.

Links, Not Necessarily Endorsements:

TV Apps Kickoff – 3 Things You Need to Know

TV Guide TV app available through YahooThe 2010 Superbowl officially kicked off the Age of TV Apps. The technology has been around for a few years and is already available to many people. But Vizio’s TV app Superbowl commercial was the kickoff heard ’round the world.

So what are TV apps? In a most basic sense, TV apps are like the applications you download for your iPhone. Small, limited-use software that allows you to personalize your hardware.

New stuff that was once only available for your computer — and then for your iPhone — is now available for your television. If you have Direct TV or Verizon FiOS, some of this is already baked into your cable box. Obviously you can get TV apps on the Vizio TV, but also on many Samsung and Sony televisions as well.

You can already use things like Twitter, Flickr, and Facebook on your TV.

Here are three things you should know about TV Apps

1. The technical field is relatively open.
Sure, there are some key players like Yahoo who have already set themselves as leaders, but that can change.  Currently, Yahoo controls the application and administers the software development kit (SDK). Note: From our personal experience, Yahoo was somewhat slow in distributing the SDKs to developers. That’s unfortunate because that could irritate programmers who could create an open-source system that could render Yahoo’s TV Apps technology obsolete. If you have the desire to create apps (or even a completely new OS), the time is now. The tech is in place for you to build the next great widget, gadget, social network, or living room app.

2. TV apps will present design challenges.

Weather TV app available through DirectTV

TV apps will face several user interface challenges. The most notable is that most people don’t have a keyboard on their television remote control. Sure, you can pull one up on the screen, but as you can imagine, typing with a little remote-control button is a pretty poor user experience. If you’ve used a Wii remote to create a Mii character, you know how tedious it can be to type out a long name. Designers will clearly make the difference between apps that succeed or fail. The old design rules will need to evolve to take advantage and address the limitations of a 10-foot interface.

3. Content & marketing opportunities will need to evolve.
The iPhone and other smart phones forced content developers and marketers to rethink the way we package messages. Long-form had to give way to shorter, more relevant messages. If not for mobile communications limitations, Twitter would have never gained a foothold in society. Face it, a 140 character message fits better on a cell phone screen than, say, a PowerPoint presentation. People who mastered the Twitter format (including URL shorteners) emerged pretty quickly as masters of the medium. And the marketers quickly caught on with brand messages. That’s a long way of saying that the new language of TV apps is still in flux. If you want to create content or marketing messages for TV apps, try to figure out what works with this new interface.

If you’re already exploring TV apps, congratulations. You’re probably going to have a head start on this unique and exciting new communications channel. I look forward to seeing what you create.

LINKS, NOT NECESSARILY ENDORSEMENTS:

10 Marketing Tech Predictions for 2010

2010-PredictionsI’m a total nut for tech predictions. Love ’em. Not only does it get me excited about the future of technology, it warms my marketer’s heart. Every new tech channel represents a new way for marketers to communicate with their target audience. And for people to discover brands and solutions that they actually want.

Since I primarily write about tech trends that affect marketers, here are my:

The Words + Pictures = Web
10 Marketing | Tech Predictions for 2010

1. Widgets and Apps Will Explode
Yes, we saw a pretty big year for Apps, thanks to the iTunes store servicing the iPhone and iTouch. But with Android and Kindle and even HP having stores, we’re going to see a big, fast expansion of useful apps. And people will want these apps to synchronize across devices and platforms.
What it means for marketers: A lot. Brands that create useful apps will see adoption rates soar. It doesn’t matter if it’s branded. If people need something, they will use it. If it happens to keep your brand top of mind, well, then good for you.

2. Web Analytics Will Improve
Every marketing initiative needs to have some sort of measurable ROI. Without a strong analytic package, you can’t tell what works and what doesn’t. The tools that we use are probably (hopefully) going to get better now that Adobe owns Omniture. Even free packages like Google Analytics are getting better, which pushes paid solutions like WebTrend and Omniture to innovate to remain competitive. Expect to see better tools for measuring Flash.
What it means for marketers: Good news for marketers who like numbers. Now, you will have even more numbers.

3. Microsoft Will Strike Back
Signs of life are bubbling up again from Redmond. Microsoft took a beating from Google, which has reinvigorated their competitive spirit. Bing is turning out to be a pretty decent search engine, which is encouraging for search marketers.
What it means for marketers: Microsoft is serious about making money in search, so they are actively courting search marketers. We’re already seeing them push Google to release new features, which is good for everyone. If you are using search engine marketing (SEM) campaigns, you can expect more options from Bing. And from Google, who will continue to maintain their lead.

4. Tech Will Move Off the Desktop
In recent years, everything has been focused on the desktop. But powerful mobile tools have changed the way we interact with websites. The traditional desktop will survive 2010, but it won’t be the only way people interact with the web.
What it means for marketers: It means that every new device — from the Kindle to the television — is now a new channel to communicate with customers. Smart marketers will be putting messages everywhere.

5. Newspapers Will Slip Further
Okay, this one is almost a little mean. Like teasing the short fat kid in school for being, well, short and fat. But newspapers are going to slip even more rapidly than they did in 2009. In the end, it’s likely that we’ll end up with a few national papers (like USA Today), a few regional papers (like New York Times), and maybe a few weekly local papers.
What it means for marketers: It’s a mixed bag. If you have a good PR team, you can get a story on the wires and have it syndicate to a lot of readers. That’s very encouraging. But with fewer reporters and papers, it’s going to get harder to get some ink. With less print out there, it will get a little more challenging to communicate with older demographics.

6. Mobile Marketing Will Get Sophisticated
We’ve been marketing to mobile devices for years now. Some agencies are quite good at it, but sadly, many more are not. Most mobile marketing is pretty lame. This year we’ll see the good agencies roll out marketing campaigns that make full use of mobile devices. Right now, mobile marketing is still rather simple. Look for more sophisticated and personalized applications.
What it means to marketers: It means that mobile content and incentives will need to be formatted for multiple screens. Don’t expect users to wait for your massive homepage to load.

7. Electronic Coupons Will Become Location Aware
Everybody loves a good discount. But if you forget your coupon at home, you may wait until the next trip to the store before you make a purchase. That’s a missed opportunity for brands. Many new devices have location-based software, so more marketers will figure out how to use this for offering coupons and incentives at just the right moment….like when they’re in close proximity to a store.
What it means for marketers: More sales and happier customers. Also, brick and mortar stores will star to win back customers from online shoppers.

8. Content Marketing Will Matter Again
Traditional media is slipping fast. That doesn’t mean people don’t need content. People want to know more about the product you sell, but also about how your product compares in the category. Content marketing will mean that your content must be fresh and vital for your target. Set it and forget it? Forget that. Write more content and make sure it’s formatted properly for the channel.
What it means for marketers: Make friends with a good copywriter. Try to tap them for ideas on how to update websites and other resources, so that your are providing proactive content for your audience.

9. Social Media Marketing Will Mature
Over the last few years, social media channels have become an effective way to connect people and products. But as the audience grows and diversifies, Facebook (and other social channels) will offer more mature and measurable ways to talk to targets. Banner ads? Sure, for certain awareness campaigns. But also look for more powerful fan-page types of services that give more flexibility and power to the brand.
What it means for marketers: Social media is probably going to get more expensive, but you’ll get more for your dollars.

10. New Hardware Will Change Brand Messaging
Kindles, iPhones, and the eagerly anticipated Apple tablet will give us new and interesting ways to tell people about our brands. But as the hardware becomes more powerful, it takes longer to figure out how to truly use it effectively. Initially, we just mash up existing technologies with new technologies (look it’s video…and now it’s on an iPhone!). New hardware will give us some immediate and measurable ways to deliver messages. But this year we’re going to peel back another layer to these devices, and discover new applications and opportunities.
What it means for marketers: Figure out how your message scales to new hardware before the competition figures it out first.

So there you go. Those are some of the tech trends that I believe will affect marketers in 2010. I’m sure I’ve missed a few things, but now you know what sort of stuff I’ll be working on this year.

Did I miss anything? Let me know your thoughts.