2-out-of-5-starsFind the Oscars App by ABC Digital here.

I’m PO’d. I thought I was watching the Oscars tonight, streaming via the brand new Oscars App from ABC. But after numerous technical difficulties, slogging through UI nightmares and unresponsive buttons, the whole thing stopped streaming to the TV altogether. I don’t want to watch the Red Carpet on my iPhone. That’s so 2009.


Hollywood Can Make Movies but They Sure Can’t Make Software


Black Hat UI and Other Bad User Experiences



This is a free app from the iTunes store and I’m using it on my iPhone. I wonder if anyone at ABC or the Oscars looked at this UI on the iPhone. If they didn’t, shame on them. If they did–and gave it a pass–shame on them!

First, let’s start with the user interface. This is a screenshot from my iPhone. I’ve enlarged it to make it easier to see. (That’s right, this is bigger than it is on the iPhone.)

You can immediately see the problem. First, there are three rows of buttons at the bottom of the screen. That’s right, three. The widest row in the middle is about 20 pixels high – which makes it just possible but not easy to tap. However, when tapping that button, as far as I can tell, the user only gets a full-screen ad for Sony Galaxy. That’s some black-hat UI design. (In Google SEO terminology, black-hat SEO is designed to trick the search engines. In user experience design, black-hat UIs trick users into tapping where they wouldn’t if they knew the results of that tap.)

The Share button on the middle row of navigation doesn’t seem to work at all. At least, I never got anything to happen, no matter how many times–or how fiercely–I tapped it.

The top row is actually a toggle between different backstage cameras. Probably the coolest feature of this app. But you can’t tell that from the title: “Watch/Direct.” And it’s almost impossible to tap. I don’t have enormous fingers, but I always ended up activating that middle ad when I tried to tap the top button.


Ignore Apple’s System UI Elements at Your Peril

The bottom row is the main navigation. Remember, this screen shot is from an iPhone. Why the heck didn’t they use any of the Apple system tab bars instead of this crummy row of buttons that is untappable? Apple doesn’t make the best-designed user experiences by accident. App designers should have a very good reason to ignor Apple’s advice and native UI elements. “Just because” is not a good enough reason, although here I suspect it was “because we really designed this for Android, but also made an iOS version.”

Here’s what’s wrong with the main navigation:


  • They’re impossible to tap–too close to the bottom, too narrow.
  • You’re guaranteed to hit that ad more than half the times you try and tap them. (But maybe that’s the goal?)
  • They’re hard to read because they’re too small
  • They’re hard to read because they scroll horizontally off the screen.
  • Swiping doesn’t seem to move the menu at all. I don’t know how we’re ever supposed to get to the buttons that are off screen


Streaming, Well Sort Of

I was initially excited about this app because it meant I could stream the live Oscars show to my television. A first since I cut the cable. Alas, it was not to be so.

I have Apple TV, so whenever I turn on an app that has video, I have a choice of streaming it to the television so I can watch it on a 54″ screen and through my 5.1 surround sound speakers, or watch it on the 1.5″ iPhone screen. Cool, no?

With the Oscars App, as soon as I turned on the video, it started streaming to the TV. I didn’t have an option, which at first seemed okay. But when it suddenly froze and restarted, I was streaming onto the phone. Because there was no toggle between phone and TV, I couldn’t tell the app that the TV was still on and it should go back to streaming there. There was nothing I could do except watch it on the tiny screen. That is a pain point, as we say in user experience design parlance.

Also, because the app wasn’t set up to play in the background (like NPR, like TAL, like Pandora) every time I wanted to check my email or send myself a screenshot, the app turned off. Another pain point.

Additionally, the app stopped playing every time the phone went to sleep. Again, NPR, TAL, and Pandora all keep playing for hours on end while the phone is asleep. This is a necessity for any streaming media, especially as we all start using our smart phones as devices for streaming to other hardward like TVs and stereos. So far, I haven’t seen any of the major network TV apps that have caught and fixed this bug. Don’t they use their own apps? Serious pain point!




Two Out of Five Stars


I give this app just two stars. How can this be what Hollywood comes up with for their biggest night of the year? I know they’re all hot-sh*t movie folks down there, and they’re all about production value, but seems like they could have asked someone from Northern California (read Silicon Valley) to help them out, just this once. We know how to make software that actually works.

Oh, and by the way, this app only streamed the Red Carpet show–not the awards show. For that, you have to have cable. FTW.