One Big, Glorious Context: How to Improve Mobile Media

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I think we can do mobile media better. Let me explain.

When I watch a movie, I'll often have the movie itself on our big TV and then the movie's IMDB page up on my iPad or Kindle Fire. When I watch a baseball game on TV, I'll also follow the game on MLB's website or its At Bat app so I can see the pitch tracker and look at stats (I'm slightly obsessed/infatuated with the pitch tracker). If I watch a live event, I'll often have Twitter up so I can see what my friends and other funny tweeters are saying about it.

This is now a pretty common use case: people watching something on one big device, then diving in deeper into that content on a smaller device. It's kind of weird though, isn't it? Why do we need multiple devices for this? It's inefficient, it's cumbersome, it looks weird (that's according to my wife, I personally think it's a very debonair look). Even more than that, it's hard to truly pay attention to anything when your head keeps swivelling back and forth. There's a completely new media usage pattern here, but we're not taking advantage of it yet.

Here's one way we could approach this: combine streaming and navigation on a mobile device.

I don't mean toggling back and forth between an app that is streaming and a web browser. I want to stream my TV show or album as I normally would, then I'd like to pull up a translucent browser window on top of that where I can navigate wherever I'd like. The user then isn't constantly switching apps and thus switching contexts; they can see and hear everything, while still having the freedom to browse. It's one big, glorious context that the user controls.

Would that experience work as well on a TV? I don't think so, given how hard it is to navigate with a remote control. (Seriously, you could watch the director's cut of Das Boot while I try to search for a YouTube video on my TV.) I'm not sure about a laptop or a desktop, either. The inputs are there, but the use case I described above really feels to me like a living room activity, not an office activity. That's why I think this is a distinctly mobile opportunity.

I am in favor of the navigation being totally free-form. As a user, let me decide where I want to navigate instead of locking me into an IMDB tab and a Twitter tab with a predetermined hashtag. There's a lot of neat content out there to supplement my media; let me go find it! Much of the time, I might not even want the option to navigate. When I do want it, I should be in charge.

I don't think this would be easy to implement. It'd take a lot of playing with window sizes, locations, and aspect ratios to get this right; a maximized browser window on top of a maximized streaming baseball game would be probably be disorienting. I bet we can find some ratios here that make sense, though, depending on the form factors involved.

There are a load of opportunities beyond this, in terms of mobile media and users joining the conversation. The first step is actually finding that conversation, though, and that's easiest done through this one big context.

(Many thanks to Carlo Longino for chatting through a lot of this with me at Uncle Billy's the other night. Also, many thanks to the brewmasters at Uncle Billy's; y'all do fine work.)

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About the Author

The Art of Delightful Software is written by Cody Powell. I'm currently Director of Engineering at TUNE here in Seattle. Before that, I worked on Amazon Video. Before that, I was CTO at Famigo, a venture-funded startup that helped families find and manage mobile content.

Twitter: @codypo
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