Simple Is Hard

It’s 9PM. You’ve worked all day, made it home for dinner. And now you just want to chill. Grab a beer, plop on to the couch, and unwind for a bit. What do you do?

Most of us grab the remote and turn on the TV.

Some of us have started to dial up Netflix, Hulu, iTunes or TV Everywhere for our fix.

And more recently, particularly in homes with iPads or other tablets, we’ve had a third option — tuning into the Internet and all the glorious programming on it.

But how? How do you “turn on and watch the Internet”? — that amorphous, chaotic, noisy, sprawling beast where 72 hours (or more) of programming is uploaded to YouTube alone. And how do you make the experience as simple as flipping on your TV with your remote?

That’s the problem we’ve been trying to tackle all along with Showyou. Where some folks make apps that help you find a movie or TV show to watch, we’ve wanted to make an app that let’s you watch the Internet.


Showyou 4.o, launched just this morning, is as close as we’ve ever come to that goal, and to an app you can “Just turn on.”

We’ve focused the past four months on making an easy-to-use app even simpler still. Tell people that and you’re not likely to elicit the “oohs” and “ahhs” you get when you introduce a new feature or three. But as others have noted when you do it right simple is damned hard:

Our goal is to try to bring a calm and simplicity to what are incredibly complex problems so that you’re not aware really of the solution, you’re not aware of how hard the problem was that was eventually solved. Simplicity is not the absence of clutter, that’s a consequence of simplicity. Simplicity is somehow essentially describing the purpose and place of an object and product.

For us this means showing you just the right videos to you every time you open the app. So you can just turn it on and start watching. And so it feels like magic.

We’ve done that by making it easy to connect your social networks to Showyou, bringing in videos from those social networks (as well as videos shared by the people and channels you’re following on Showyou) and displaying them in a grid that was easy and fun to browse and to explore.

And with Showyou 4.0 we’ve gone a step further. While you’ll still see our signature grid, it’s cleaner and more focused so you can spend less effort browsing and more time watching. This updated grid works and looks great on both the regular iPad and the new iPad Mini. And the list of videos we bring to you on the iPad now uses the same “Smart Feed” we introduced on the iPhone this summer.

Married to this more focused feed is a new carousel player. Just tap to start watching, and swipe to go to the next video.

Tap. Swipe. Play. It’s that easy. And it’s incredibly fun.

And if that’s still too hard, you can put the app in “autoplay” mode with a little Autoplay toggle at the top. If you have an Apple TV, the new carousel player is a delight to use with Airplay. It’s a glimpse of the future, a peek at how we’re likely to watch in the coming decade.

One of the lessons we’ve learned with Showyou over the past year and a half is that the way we interact with the tablet is different. We don’t quite “lean forward” the way we do in front of a PC; but we’re also not in a passive, lean-back mode, either. We want functional and useful ways to interact, but want those interactions to be as easy as possible.

With that in mind, we made a few other important changes with Showyou 4.0 on the iPad. Ways to lean forward, go deeper, but without furrowing your brow or breaking a sweat.

For example: you’ll now see a toggle at the top of the grid. Tap that and you’ll see a more detailed feed view with relevant information for each video in your grid — which friends shared it, what they said about the video. For some videos you’ll now see topics related to the video — tap on those and you’ll be transported to a new grid full of videos related to that topic. It’s the feeling you get browsing the web, the open-ended nature and secret thrill of going down the rabbit hole. But with the simplicity, ease-of-use, and consistency you get from an app.

These new topics screens are a good example of what we’re increasingly able to do with the huge amount of data we collect and process: over 11 million links to videos parsed and processed each day from the Twitter and Facebook feeds of people who use our app; over a billion social signals all together around nearly 100 million videos.

There are also dozens of smaller things, dozens of little touches that add up to something real, tangible. An easier to use tray that lets you surf through hundreds of channels and follow the ones you like with a tap. A much simplified sign up process. Intelligent handling of errors from the Facebook and Twitter auth services (any good app maker will nod their head in approval at this one; these are fragile systems and we’ve done our best to compensate on our end for a lot of that fragility).

In the end, of course, the irony is that you do all this work with the hope no one notices. As Jony Ive so aptly put it in the quote above, the goal we all have (or should have) is “to bring a calm and simplicity to what are incredibly complex problems so that you’re not aware really of the solution.” We hope people will feel that way about this latest version of Showyou.


2 thoughts on “Simple Is Hard

  1. Reblogged this on @stevebanfield and commented:
    Congratulations to Mark and the entire Showyou team for rolling out their latest iPad app to great reviews. Simple is perhaps the hardest thing to do in building a great product. Simple doesn’t mean under powered. Simple doesn’t mean limited. Simple means intuitive. Simple means elegant. Simple means astonishing. It’s taken Mark and the team four major versions and many minor ones to try and reach the goal of simple. Great to see how far they have come.

  2. Pingback: Moments of Truth « MHALLVILLE

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