Service Management 

What TiVo taught us about innovation and user experience

The technology that became a verb for recording TV shows proved simplicity is good when it comes to user experience.

Over the past decade, I’ve owned countless TiVo boxes starting with simple single tuner, standard definition boxes to multi-tuner, high-definition systems capable of streaming multiple services in addition to recording and pausing TV. The one thing that remained constant across all those boxes and years: the peanut-shaped remote control.

Early on in TiVo’s life, the recording technology alone was enough to pay for the box and subscription to the service. Easily recording your favorite shows consistently was a plus, but being able to pause live TV was a killer feature. No more “What did they just say?” moments. Or, in the case of the 2004 Super Bowl: “Did I just see what I think I saw?!?” (Janet Jackson’s “wardrobe malfunction” remains one of the most rewound live events in history.)

As competition increased and cable systems finally realized customers wanted DVR technology, TiVo retained its position below the televisions in my and many others’ houses. What TiVo got that others didn’t: simplicity is critical to the user experience.

The remote was easy to use and didn’t overwhelm a person with countless buttons. The company used software and an intuitive on-screen interface to make its input device easier to use. Cable remotes had more buttons than a 747 and the on-screen experience wasn’t much better. I flirted with my cable provider’s DVR service briefly in an effort to save a few bucks, but quickly went back to TiVo.

But TiVo also provides another lesson: as its acquisition by Rovio earlier this year shows, you have to keep innovating and stay ahead. If your technology becomes a commodity, people will switch to a lower cost option with the same experience.

For me, that switch came when Comcast rolled out its X1 system. The multi-room viewing and interface are easy to use. And it finally realized a simple remote is better than one with 10,000 buttons. Even the X1’s voice remote technology is pretty slick. It was hard to breakup with TiVo, but the time had come.

TiVo might be a consumer product, but the lessons in user experience and innovation extend to the enterprise as well. I know my colleagues at CA Technologies have worked hard to simplify the user experiences of our products—from CA Application Performance Management to CA Service Desk Manager and beyond.

We all want a simple, easy-to-understand interface both at home and at work.


Jason is a tech marketer/journalist with 20 years experience.

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