Gaiam TV, now known as Gaia, had an existing customer base for its subscription video-on-demand (SVOD) service. With a fraction the size of the team at bigger media companies has relied on some key third-party platforms and support studios like Cainkade to bring its product to life.
Gaiam came to Cainkade seeking to build new experiences for iPad, Android tablet, Nook and Kindle – integrating with its subscriber tools for managing pause and playback history across devices, authentication and analytics. The new apps were to borrow and respect some of the design elements of the previous products, but be purpose-built for the new platforms.
We worked hand-in-hand with the internal Gaiam TV team to integrate with its existing internal systems and key third party platforms. The new platforms, the first touch-screen experiences in Gaiam’s portfolio, required a fresh take on the user experience while extending colors and aesthetic choices from its sibling apps on other devices.
Constraints are a good thing.
- Students have a much easier time if they are asked to write a story about two people in a cafe versus a story about anything. In product design, constraints help focus in both the team but the key stakeholders as well. There were a lot of helpful constraints on this project – successful apps on key platforms like the Xbox, existing content taxonomoies, and the unique attributes of the target devices.
- We preserved content structures but carefully considered the differences in interacting with an iPad or tablet versus a TV device. The distance of the device – 18″ vs 10″ – allowed for greater density of information and more choices per screen.
- We were designing a universal experience – product for cross-platform tablets. As much as possible we avoided iOS or Android-specific conventions and designed user interface elements that would be relevant for both platforms.
Gaiam TV had a mature set of products in the market when we were engaged for the iOS and Android experiences. We were encouraged to carry over the primary brand purple color and to utilize accent colors to denote the various “pillars” or sections across the product.
- Live Healthy
- Seeking Truth
- Spiritual Growth
Shortcuts don’t scale.
There’s a lot of bad code out there. Fat apps are harder to debug and cost more to operate day in day out. We may design a universal approach, but app code is natively developed and doesn’t utilize a framework, toolkit, SDK or other shortcut.
The biggest challenge was debugging HTTP Live Streaming (HLS) on Android. We dealt with this previously on a Comcast project so we knew a bit about what we were getting into.
Android versions older than 4.0 are a trainwreck when it comes to consistent video playback. Versions 4.0 or 4.1 and above handle HLS much better. Our existing relationship with Brightcove (video platform, and provider of Android player SDK) and VisualOn (HLS playback technology for Android) helped is triangulate the issues and ensure there would be a smooth experience across Android devices.
Android always presents some interesting QA challenges with diversity across the various implementations and hardware. For this reason we find that Android takes on average about 20% more than iOS to develop. We also supported Nook and Kindle Fire. Little did we know how much easier the Kindle and Android tablet work would make our lives just a few months later.
We are spending a lot of time in Boulder working with Gaiam on the future of their platform, enabling them to continue to move quickly, innovate and ensure a world-class media experience. This involves reexamining all elements of the technology platform underpinning the service. “Standards” debates from just a few years ago (Playready vs. HLS vs. Widevine vs. Flash) have mostly been resolved for non-Hollywood content (HLS). This is very freeing. The cost and flexibility of encoding, hosting and delivery services has improved dramatically since Gaiam TV first came to market.