In case you haven’t noticed I spend an awful lot of time watching streaming movies and TV shows on Netflix. Most of these I watch on my Xbox, though my wife did just buy a Roku off of woot.com for the bedroom. Between Netflix and our DVR I simply don’t watch commercials anymore and Netflix is a great way to find new-to-me quality television that has slipped through the cracks. My latest favorite is the BBC4 show Black Books. The show stars Simon Pegg‘s friend Bill Bailey and features a number of players from Pegg and Edgar Wright’s SPACED and is simply hilarious. But I’ve been noticing a trend with Netflix in general and with the Xbox interface in particular. Mainly this: it’s turning into a complicated mess.
When Netflix first started streaming on the Xbox, the hipster in me would like to point out I was an early adopter, it was a bit awkward. After installing Netflix accessing it was a bit awkward. I’m not entirely sure what the intended method was to be honest because it wasn’t in any of the main menus. I learned the quickest way to get to it was to hit the center button to bring up the controller menu and use the quick launch button. Once Netflix launched it was beautiful. It had an intuitive search function, recommendations based on my preferences and viewing history, a list of recently viewed titles made it easy to pick up where I left off, and there was the instant queue. Now, I made the mistake of cramming every MST3k I could find in the instant queue along with all my favorite movies which stretched it out to over 300 titles and made it nearly impossible to navigate, but that was my own fault. I used it as more of a personal library of titles I “own” instead of a true queue. It was a nice, simple program that gave me access to all kinds of movies and weened me off of IFC, AMC, and Turner Classics. Sure, at the beginning the list of available titles was mostly ancient classics and garbage, but it rapidly expanded. Though the only way to get new releases is still through the mail.
Then came Kinect. The first Xbox system update following the “controllerless” launch moved the quick launch button from the main controller menu to one menu to the left. While not the end of the world it did inhibit the button’s named function. More importantly it was a foreboding omen of things to come. For almost a year it was business as usual, only the occasional hiccup in the software which would prevent the “recently watched” menu from popping up. Then came the big news. Netflix announced they were splitting the company into mail and online branches. They claimed it was an effort to save new users money and streamline operations. But we current users new it was a ploy to charge us twice for a service we were already paying for. The public outcry was such that Netflix reneged on their plans and left well enough alone. Still, the shadows of that decision remain. When you search titles on the Xbox interface it no longer displays titles available by mail only.
Still, there were improvements along the way. TV shows were combined into complete series instead of individual seasons. Sorry to confuse my British readers. I’m sure you know what I mean. This made watching Top Gear and Doctor Who satisfyingly simple. The system would even bring me to the menu of the next show in the season/series if I watched a bit of the credits. But we couldn’t leave well enough alone. If I didn’t watch the credits and just backed out of the show right when it ended, which I could do by bumping the back button, a simple tap on the right bumper would bring me to the next episode. Until Netflix decided that was too easy. No, what our customers want is to be forced to go to list of the episodes then enter a menu for the specific episode before launching the next episode. That’s the thing. It reminds me of marketing meetings in Dilbert’s office. What we need first is a name. But we don’t have a product, how do we know what to call it if we don’t know what it does? How do we know what it does without a great name?
These mild transgressions were a tolerable nuisance until this week. Or last weekend. I don’t know. Working seven days a week has me all screwed up. I’m just glad I remembered to post today. Anyway, Microsoft released their big annual update. Now the interface is even more Kinect compatible for all us hardcore gamers that think the Kinect is a complete and utter waste of time. Now we’re stealing ideas from apple and naming Netflix an app. Ok, fine. I don’t care what you call it. We’re putting the quick launch button in a sort of mid-2000’s trendy website menu thingy right out front so can just hit it straight away. Excellent. It’s about time that button fulfilled its purpose. We’re giving these fancy apps their own sub-menu. Good. That’s been a long time coming.
Oh, and we’re completely retooling the Netflix interface to make it look more like Hulu. Wait what? Yes! You’ll love it. You just say Xbox play my cool movie or something and it does it. But I don’t have a connect. Really? They’ve been out like two years now. But they’re total crap. I just want to access my movies in a simple fashion. Well, you can still do that. Sure. Look! It even shows a still from the next episode you haven’t seen or the movie or whatever. Yeah, but what about Stargate Atlantis or Doctor Who? I’ve seen both of those several times. I don’t want to launch the one Netflix has ready to go. I just want to enter a menu for that show. What? No you just say Xbox play the one where Rodney blows up a solar system. I DON’T HAVE A KINECT. Oh right. Weirdo. No, you’re dumb. We’ll pick an episode at random and start playing it. What? That’s not what I want at all. It’s ok, the shows are listed at the bottom of the screen so you can still pick a different one. What the hell? That doesn’t work right at all. Hold on pause this. Wait. The start button doesn’t pause anymore? Sure it does. It brings up the menu that allows you to pause the show. WHAT? What the hell is wrong with you? Why should I have to enter a menu to hit the pause button? Did you work on Windows 98? You did didn’t you! Then they promoted you to lead on Windows 2000! Next you’ll tell me you designed that paperclip from Office. I hope you never design a missile defense system. “Windows detects a missile launch from Iran, possible targets Chicago, Detroit, and the Falklands. The Falklands? What? Well, whatever, launch countermeasures. You have enter the missile defense sub-menu. Would you like to launch countermeasures? YES! That’s why I pushed the countermeasures button.” It’s madness I tell you. I will grant that bumping the fast forward button when I put down or dropped the controller was a nuisance. I’ve trained myself to handle the controller like bomb when using Netflix. So that’s one problem this corrects. But the pause button is in the middle of the controller. It’s hard to bump by accident. More importantly, it is the button you must have immediate access to at all times.
Soon the stupid thing will be so convoluted that it will only be navigable by voice commands which only recognize French Canadian accents. They’re trying their darndest to get me to buy a Kinect. Sorry boys. Not gonna happen. Wow, I did not expect to get more than 600 words out of this. Apparently my tirade was more extensive than I first believed. I’m curious to learn whether I’m alone in my thinking. I can’t imagine anyone without a Kinect thinking these changes were for the better and the system is still a million times better than whatever that EPIX garbage is. Even if it does have Manos: The Hands of Fate.