What the Sony/Google TV Remote Coulda, Shoulda Been [Opinion]



Hello readers. Look at this remote. Now at your hands. Now back to the remote. Now back to your hands.

Maybe it’s a joke. Maybe it’s a clever ruse. Maybe it’s a prototype. Maybe it’s clever CGI like they used for Gollum. I have no idea. But the picture here (sourced from Engadget) is supposedly the remote control shipping with Sony’s TVs that have Google TV integrated inside. It is, in a word, a monstrosity (my friend MG said it best, “My God, it’s full of buttons!”).

Here are all the things wrong with it, in a nutshell:

  • Big and ugly – the current era of product design is about sleekness, not low quality plastic. Even the Xbox controller looks like it’s better made.
  • Requires two hands to operate at all times – should be one, with the option to go to two when necessary. You should never go full handed, always stay half handed.
  • All keyboard buttons appear the same size – this thing has to be usable in the dark, which means physical cues are needed. The “tab” button is where the “Q” should’ve been, so the user can anchor themselves around the keyboard without looking, every time.
  • All control buttons appear the same size – volume and channel change are the same, as are all playback buttons. Buttons which are used most frequently should be physically differentiated.
  • Two identical joysticks – while I’ll go out on a limb and assume the extra joystick is actually useful/functional, it should be mildly different to the user’s touch.
  • Too many buttons – just like notes, there is such a thing as too many buttons. And this has too many.

Now, since it’s so easy to complain, I’ll take this a step further with the XX things I’d have done with this remote:

  • Combo buttons + touchscreen – the 2nd gen Sonos controller is a simple version of a hybrid remote, I think this is a perfect time for it. The physical buttons should control the basic navigation, especially playback controls, and volume. The touchscreen could do the keyboard, advanced options, setup options, etc. Even if it’d end up the same physical size as the one pictured here, it would be slicker and better received.
  • Glowing buttons – for advanced products that are going to work in a dark room, back-lit, glowing, light-up, etc buttons are a must-have.
  • Single handed operation – without a doubt I’d have the basic configuration work in a single hand, held in a traditional manner. If the user has to tilt it to make the screen work, or some other kind of touchscreen is needed to make this happen, it’s worth it.
  • High quality materials – this is supposed to be la creme de la creme of TV products.  Whether it’s a single piece of aluminium or carbon fiber or any other “really nice” materials, I’d spare no expense on the first generation remote.
  • OR… dual remote + phone interfaces – first and foremost, I am *not* a fan of the vision that the smartphone makes a great remote control – it doesn’t. BUT, if you could ship a really nice, simple, easy to use, high quality remote that offers 80-90% of the functionality, then let the user go to their phone for more advanced features when they want to, I’d call that a viable option.  Remember, you could do keyboard input with a 10-key, it’s worked on feature phones for years.

I’m still in the “shock and awe” phase of watching everything related to Google TV roll out the way it is.  Our post on “taste” applies quite a bit here, as I’ve yet to see an ounce of it related to these products, strategies, or efforts. And I’m disappointed – this is exactly how we burn consumers on technology. Too hard, not elegant, etc.

This is a guest commentary by Jeremy Toeman of Stage Two consulting, a San Francisco Product Experience company. It was originally published here.