Netflix has a user experience problem

Posted on .

UPDATE: This actually has been fixed, so they don’t have a user experience problem anymore (or at least not this one).

Netflix has a user experience problem.

Over the last year or so, Netflix has been working hard to bring the same user experience to you no matter which device you are using with the service. They’ve succeeded in that the interface is almost the same on my WDTV Live, iPad, Xbox 360, and computer. You navigate through titles in a similar way and the buttons to control a title are laid out in the same manner.

While this project was going on, one (broken) feature was added to the service: the ability to hit play and watch several episodes of a television show in a row. When introducing this feature, Netflix also unintentionally implemented a user experience problem. The issue is that there is no way to turn it off. When you hit play on any singular episode of a television show, you will be seeing more than one (if you manage to stay awake).

To me, it’s just annoying. I often fall asleep while watching television and when I go to watch a show the next night, I have no idea where I left off. Roughly a year after this change, I still haven’t figured out how many episodes it will stream without any user response (seems to be between two and five). I’m stuck reading each episode’s synopsis which sucks two-fold—I’m only 70 to 80 percent accurate in figuring out where I left off and the synopses often spoil bits of the episodes you haven’t seen.

For others, this functionality could ruin their day much more significantly. Streaming video happens to use a lot of bits. Some internet providers deem it necessary to cap how much data their users can use each month (from a very small cap if on an LTE connection to a fair, but certainly exceedable cap on a service like AT&T’s U-Verse). Falling asleep while watching 1080p video over an LTE connection could get expensive very quickly.

I see a couple solutions to this. The first would be to add a toggle in the service’s global settings area that lets the user choose how many episodes in a row would be streamed. This would allow a user to choose to not have this feature at all or customize to their personality and viewing habits how many eps they would see. This shouldn’t be too foreign of an idea to Netflix’s users as there is already a toggle that will let the user choose between low, medium, or high bandwidth streams to fit their connection.

Another option would be to add another button in the interface so the user has a choice between “Play One Episode” and “Play Many Episodes” (Netflix, feel free to steal this idea and change the copy). This also shouldn’t be too foreign of an idea for users as you will often see similar choices when watching TV episodes via DVD.

Does this feature bother you as much as it bothers me? Worry not, my friend. Just go drop 99 of your hard earned US Dollars on an AppleTV. I’m not sure if the market share of the device is too small for Netflix to bother updating the interface or Apple has resisted a change, but the AppleTV’s Netflix interface does not have this “feature.” Watch on my friends, one episode at a time.