“Familiarity reigns over simplicity.”
That’s one of the lessons Gerard Kunkel, Comcast’s senior vice president of user experience and product design, took away from a recent survey of the cable company’s customers about remote controls.
Kunkel’s team conducted an in-depth poll of 800 subscribers to measure their attitudes about existing remotes and future concepts for input devices. (The resulting report was 90-plus pages.)
The unexpected key finding: 74% of those surveyed gave their current Comcast remote an 8 or higher on a 10-point scale, with 10 being the most satisfied.
“I went into that research expecting to see consumers hungry for a new device from Comcast,” Kunkel said. “I was extremely surprised to find that they’re happy with the remote control today. It wasn’t that they were without comments or criticisms. But if you look at the research results by the numbers, there were an overwhelming percentage of consumers who said, ‘This works well.’”
Comcast also asked consumers if they’d prefer a simpler, six-button remote to their current cable remote; Comcast’s standard DVR remote has 53 buttons. More people indicated they would stick with the current models.
“I expected to see simplicity reign over the current remote, and it did not,” said Kunkel. “There’s a familiarity that’s born out of constant usage.”
The two main features Comcast customers have asked for, and which Kunkel’s team is currently working on: (1) a backlit keypad, to be able to see it in the dark and (2) being able to find a lost remote with an audible tone. (Dish Network’s ViP 922 Slingbox-enabled DVR has such a “find me” feature, and Motorola provides the capability with its rechargeable IPTV remote.)
Kunkel, who also posted a blog entry last month soliciting feedback on remotes, is overseeing an ongoing, longer-term project looking at next-generation remotes that will use a mechanism like a roller ball, scroll-wheel or touchpad — to make flipping through huge amounts of VOD or channels faster and easier.
“We need better devices to get through that large plethora of choices,” Kunkel said, noting that his team is trying to design the next-gen remote so it will work not only with forthcoming on-screen interfaces but also be backward-compatible with Comcast’s existing guides.