Google Play Movies & TV UI review

I bought a season of a television show on Google Play and am watching it on PC, via the web interface. And it’s not great.

I want to watch the series in order, naturally. So of course the UI supports that; I can start watching episode 1, and when it finishes —

Oh, it doesn’t actually advance me to episode 2 at that point. It sticks a loading animation on top of the final frame and does nothing. I have to close the playback screen and manually select the next episode.

Well, that’s okay; at least it tells me which episodes I’ve watched, right? Well, turns out that’s a mobile-only feature. The web interface doesn’t show that information.

If I start watching an episode, though, I can at least see the title of it in order to find the next episode in the list, right? Well, actually, turns out that doesn’t work. I just finished watching episode 10, and it’s got the info for episode 7 up. (At least, I think it was episode 10. It might have been 9. Don’t know until I try it!)

Okay, that’s bad, but at least it’s easy to navigate to the shows I’ve purchased, right? It actually isn’t that hard — I’d prefer it if it showed those to you by default and let you go to a store page with an extra click, rather than showing you the store and then giving the option to look at just what you can watch right away. But in my case, I’ve purchased season 1 of the show, and when I go to “My movies & TV” and click on the show, it takes me to season 2, which I don’t even own.

I can watch stuff successfully, and that’s even on Linux, so bonus points for that. And I can watch on my Android tablet — without even installing a third-party app store. The Android version even has a little progress indicator to tell you how much of an episode you’ve watched, which is pretty handy the first time you watch something. (Can you reset those progress indicators? I doubt it. So it’s only good for the first binge.)

What do I want?

  • Let me get to my library fast. Two clicks is the absolute maximum.
  • When I go to a television show, if I came there from my library, show me the last season I’ve watched part of.
  • Include next/previous links for seasons. There’s currently a dropdown, which, if I’m in season 4 of Stargate, isn’t so handy.
  • Always, always show me where I am. Highlight the episode I’m watching in the episode list, and show the summary of the episode when I’m done watching it (instead of showing another episode’s summary).
  • Always show which episode I’ve most recently watched, if I’m not watching something already.
  • Maybe list when you’ve last watched each episode.

It’s not that hard. You use the product for two hours and these problems become obvious.

Now, I’m not faulting Google engineers here. Even people of Google quality could implement these changes within a few months. It’s product management that’s at fault, an emphasis on whitespace and a lack of UI elements over functionality. I hope they get over it eventually.

What else is there to the UI? Your main page on Movies & TV has a list of movies followed by a list of television episodes. The episodes are categorized by series, which is good. They’re ordered by purchase date, I believe. If you buy a whole season at once, though, they’re ordered from last episode to first. That…is stupid.

When you’re looking at a single season, you see each episode as a card, and the cards are shown in a grid four wide. A list would be easier to use — you’ve just got one dimension to worry about, and that gives you more width for titles, which are usually cut off. (The cards give you about 15 characters, so I can see titles such as “Auld Acquaint” and “Hurricane Fluff”.) If you used a list, you could also accordion out each episode.

There’s a little red checkmark on episode cards for episodes you own. On the mobile app, there’s also a red checkmark — but this indicates whether you’ve downloaded the item, not whether you own it. It’s not self-explanatory either way.

I think the key takeaway is that people who design these things must be forced to use them if you want anything vaguely usable. But maybe they did use it and still came up with this. Not sure. And maybe I should become a UI usability expert.

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