My No. 1 Feature Request for Apple TV

About 18 months ago, my wonderful wife and I cut our TV cable. A sleek Apple TV replaced the unwieldy Comcast box, and we now get most of our content from Netflix, hulu, and PBS. We save money, have fewer ads to endure, and when it comes to the user experience, the Apple TV is far ahead of Xfinity. If it weren’t for live football games and Formula 1 races, we wouldn’t miss a thing.1

One aspect of the user interface has been bugging me since we made the switch, though. The next-generation Apple TV, which will likely be announced next week, will hopefully address that problem.

Eventually, it’s almost like old-fashioned TV, but without the channel numbers

Almost everything on the Apple TV is on-demand. To watch a TV show or movie, you browse or search for it, or pick something from you-might-also-like-this suggestions. Alternatively, you can save titles to a personal watch list for later viewing.

And here’s that major problem: Every channel on the Apple TV has its own, dedicated front-end for browsing and searching, for suggestions, and for a watch list for just that one channel.

Not every title is available on every channel, of course, so if you want to watch a specific movie, chances are that you will have to search in multiple channels until you find what you’re looking for. Similarly, if you want to access a title from a watch list, you need to remember in which channel you saved it. If you don’t, you’ll have to step through multiple channels to find the watch list that it’s on.

This press image from Apple shows the Apple TV user interface. Some channels like Netflix, hulu, and HBO appear on the screen.

Let’s say I’d like to watch François Truffaut’s masterpiece, “The 400 Blows:” Yeah, I’ve seen that somewhere on the Apple TV. Didn’t I save that to a watch list? Let me check Netflix… Nah. iTunes Movies, maybe? Nope. hulu? Uh-uh. OK, let me search for that, then — wait, now was it available on Netflix, or hulu, or where the heck did I see that?!

You get the idea.

Of course, you could consult a site like, but that would make the overall process even more cumbersome. What I would really like to see in the upcoming Apple TV update, are central screens for unified search and watch list that operate globally on all channels.

One search, one watch list, to rule them all

If I feel like watching an episode of one of my favorite TV shows, I don’t want to have to hunt for it across channels. I want to deal with just a single unified search form: I hit a dedicated button on the remote, enter the title, run the search, and get a list of all options for watching that show right now — regardless of whether it’s served via Netflix subscription, paid iTunes rental, or free PBS series.

The same applies to watch lists: I don’t want to have to juggle multiple lists. Just let me save interesting titles to a single unified watch list. Make it explorable via genre, actors, directors, etc., and tie in some additional information from sources like IMDB or Rotten Tomatoes. Better yet, support multiple lists so each family member can have their own.

Obviously, content providers will not like this approach. Why, for example, would I buy or rent a movie from iTunes, if I can watch the exact same title for free on another channel? And yet, from a user’s perspective, the Apple TV would be so much easier to use if search and watch lists would be unified.

There are rumors that the next Apple TV will support Siri voice control. That could make for a fascinating approach if Siri “becomes” that single-point-of-access global search and watch list.

  1. To be honest, this should have read “…I wouldn’t miss a thing,” because my wife doesn’t really care for guys fighting over an egg-shaped ball or cars driving around in circles. 

How Search Engines Implement Auto-Correct

When you search the web these days, you will notice that most search engines automatically correct “mistakes” in your search terms: If you submit a search that resembles a more common word or spelling, the sites modify it accordingly.

This is helpful if you make an actual typo, but can get in the way when searching for a more exotic word or phrase. Therefore, the search engines not only notify you of any such correction; they also allow you to choose which of the two searches you actually would like to run.

To find out how Bing, DuckDuckGo, Google, and Yahoo implement this feature2, I searched for “ux desine,” which — not surprisingly — all of the sites changed to “ux design.”


The auto-correct notice appears below a few ads that are shown at the top of the results page. The notice is easy to spot, but it’d probably benefit from a bit more white space above and below it, so it stands out more.

The notice’s text is easy to understand: The displayed search results are based on both the original search term and the corrected one. By clicking either link in the notice, you can summon matches for only one of the two.

Browser window with Bing results page, displaying the notice 'Including results for ux design. Do you want results only for ux desine?' towards the bottom of the page. Both search terms are clickable.

But there’s a problem: For this specific search, the auto-correct notice still appears on-screen without any scrolling. If you look at the Yahoo example below, however, you can see that, at least on smaller laptop screens, ads at the top of a results page can potentially push the notice off the screen.


In DuckDuckGo, the auto-correct notice is located at the very top of the page, so it’s easier to spot than its Bing counterpart. Its text is confusing, though.

The notice states, “Did you mean ux design?,” but the results on the page already contain that phrase. So, are the displayed results based on my original search term, or the auto-corrected one, or do they combine results for both?

Browser window with DuckDuckGo results page, displaying the notice 'Did you mean ux design?' at the top of the page. The search term is clickable.


Google also displays the notice at the top of the page.

In contrast to DuckDuckGo, however, the text is unambiguous: The search is based only on the auto-corrected search term. If you would like to see results for your original term, you need to click a link in the notice.

I’m not sure why Google also makes the auto-corrected search term clickable, because, at this point, it is already displaying the results for it. Maybe its function is to place the auto-corrected text into the search field.

Browser window with Google results page, displaying the notice 'Showing results for ux design. Search instead for ux desine' at the top of the page.  Both search terms are clickable.


Yahoo cooperates with Bing for search functionality. The auto-correct notice and its placement are similar between the two.

Unlike Bing, Yahoo’s ads push the auto-correct notice off the screen for the given search term. This makes the notice more difficult to spot compared to it being anchored to the top of the page.

Browser window with Yahoo results page, showing only ads, but no auto-correct notice at all.

The way that Yahoo marks ads exacerbates the problem: Instead of displaying a little “Ad” label next to each ad block, there’s a single line, “Ads related to ux design,” at the top of the page. When you scroll down on the page, and that line is moved off screen, it’s impossible to tell which links on the page are ads, and which are actual search results.

Note how this ad “warning” also includes the auto-corrected search term, whereas both the browser and Yahoo’s search field contain the original term. Unless you scroll down, you won’t see the explanation of why the two search terms differ, nor would you be able to tell what terms the search is based on.

Browser window with Yahoo results page, scrolled down a little bit. Now, the notice 'Including results for ux design. Search only for ux desine' is visible.  Both search terms are clickable.

One web searcher’s opinion

Of these four approaches, Google’s easily is my favorite:

  • The auto-correct notification always appears at the top of the page, so I can instantly verify that the results actually match my intended search,

  • the notice’s text is unambiguous and easy to understand, and

  • I can also precisely search for either my original search term, or for the corrected version.

  1. According to Wikipedia, Bing, Google, and Yahoo! are the most popular search engines in the English-speaking world. DuckDuckGo seems to be the most popular non-user-tracking English-language search engine. That’s why I picked these four. 

LaunchBar Gains a Better Way for Enforcing an App Restart

When you change an application’s settings, you sometimes have to restart the app before the change will take effect. I previously examined five ways of requesting such a restart.

For one of the apps featured in that article, the developers have noticeably improved this process — by implementing just two changes in the User Interface.

The problem of letting the user defer an application restart

LaunchBar is an “application launcher” utility. As such, it is constantly running in the background, waiting for user input.

The setting that requires the restart, is for hiding the app’s Dock icon. Without LaunchBar’s icon constantly showing in the Mac’s Dock and Application Switcher, navigating between all other running programs is easier and quicker.

Previously, you had to click a button labeled “Hide Dock Icon…” in LaunchBar’s preferences panel. This would summon a dialog box that lists all the consequences of hiding the icon. At this point in the process, you could cancel the change, or confirm it, in which case you’d see another dialog box requesting a restart of the app.

This latter dialog also allowed you to defer the restart, however, which led to a number of weird problems. The most obvious of these being that the button label would already change to “Show Dock Icon”, even though the icon had not actually been hidden yet.

Out with the button, in with a checkbox

In the current version of LaunchBar, the “Hide/Show Dock Icon” button has been replaced with a “Show Dock Icon” checkbox.

LaunchBar's Advanced preferences panel with Show Dock Icon checkbox.

As soon as you change the setting, the same elaborate warning message appears. But instead of just showing an “OK” button for dismissing the dialog box, the default button says “Restart Now”.

Dialog box with warnings about consequences of hiding the Dock icon. The dialog's buttons are labeled Cancel and Restart Now.

The separate dialog box for restarting the application is gone. More importantly, though, you cannot defer the application restart anymore: If you click “Cancel”, the dialog box closes, and the state of the checkbox instantly reverts back to checked. As a result, and unlike the button of the previous design, the checkbox will always properly reflect the app icon’s current hidden/visible status.

If you click the checkbox when LaunchBar’s Dock icon is hidden, the icon instantly appears in the Dock and the Application Switcher without requiring any further user interaction.

Small changes, big usability impact

By changing a single UI control, and consolidating two modal dialog boxes into one, the LaunchBar developers have created a much cleaner, more reliable process for restarting their application.