Podcasts App Changes in iOS9

I started listening to podcasts regularly back in April and have used the iOS Podcasts app exclusively. It was easy enough to figure out and it did what I needed.

When I updated my iPhone to iOS9, I was met with a reconfigured Podcasts app that is no longer usable the way I want it to be. (I’d like to know how Apple decides what to change.) Below are the top three issues I struggle with.

No More “On-The-Go” Station

In iOS8, you could add any podcast episode individually to this station and quickly create a playlist of episodes you want to listen to. I could keep a backlog of older episodes in case I ran out of new episodes, and I could easily add new episodes and move them to the top of the list. The ability to change the order of episodes was a key feature.

screen shot of the iOS8 Podcasts app screen
Podcasts App “On-The-Go” station screen

In its place is a buried and confusing option called “Add to Up Next”.

Up Next is Crap

You can add an episode to “Up Next” but not remove it, and the episode list is accessible only from an unlabled icon on the screen of a podcast already playing.

screen shot of the podcast play screen with the "Up Next" button highlighted
iOS9 Podcast play screen

Tapping this icon brings up a long list that begins with a history of played episodes, then shows what is currently playing, then at the bottom shows what’s coming up next. What?

screen shot of the iOS9 Podcast app Up Next screen listing episodes
iOS9 Podcast app “Up Next” Screen

There is no option to remove anything (no swipe left) and no option to reorder the episodes that are up next.

Unplayed List Not Configurable

In place of the “My Stations” button on the bottom of the app, there is now an “Unplayed” button. Unlike the “All Unplayed” station in iOS8, the “Unplayed Episodes” list can’t be configured, at all. The ‘Edit’ option allows you to select episodes to mark as played, save, or delete only.

screen shot of the iOS9 Podcast app Unplayed Episode screen
iOS9 Podcast app “Unplayed Episodes” screen

All episodes are listed chronologically, newest to oldest, and the episodes can’t be grouped by podcast—both features that were available in iOS8.

Design Recommendations

If “Up Next” is intended to replace the “On-The-Go” station, it needs to provide similar functionality and it needs to be easy to find.

  • Allow users to add, remove, and reorder episodes quickly.
  • Provide a button to view the “Up Next” list from somewhere other than the play screen, probably the top of the “My Podcasts” screen.

Upping the profile of “Unplayed” episodes by giving them a button on the bottom menu bar should not come at the expense of functionality available when “Unplayed” was a station.

  • Allow users to sort the list in ways other than newest to oldest; in particular, allow a manual sorting option if “Up Next” is going to rely on the sort order of the “Unplayed” list.

Managing Favorites on Hulu’s Mobile Apps

The Hulu interface differs in confusing ways between its desktop website, iPhone app, and Android app for managing your favorite shows.

Desktop Website

On Hulu’s website, it’s easy to “favorite” a show. You go to the show’s overview page and click the link with a plus icon and “favorite” label. Once a show is a favorite, the plus changes to a check mark.

What’s more difficult is removing a show from your favorites since the interface expects a user to understand that clicking the same “favorite” label will now remove it.

screenshot of Hulu's desktop website
Hulu’s desktop website

It’s not immediately obvious what adding a show to your favorites does either. You have to find the “Favorites” page by hovering over your account name, then clicking the “favorite” link in the menu.

Screenshot of Hulu's Favorites page
Hulu’s Favorites page

On the “Favorites” page, you can select what gets added to your queue automatically for any shows you’ve added as a favorite. I really like this feature. However, now that I use the mobile app exclusively to watch shows, I’ve had a very hard time figuring out how to manage my favorites.

iPhone App

On the iPhone, there is a tiny icon on the show’s detail page with no label and no feedback about what tapping it does. I already have Saturday Night Live added to my favorites, so I was really confused why it shows a plus icon instead of a check mark on my mobile.

Screenshot of the Hulu app on iPhone
Hulu app on iPhone

Tapping the plus icon takes you to a screen where you can add additional episodes, even entire past seasons, to your queue.

Screenshot if iPhone add episodes
iPhone add episodes to queue

I was left feeling very uncertain whether this show was still one of my favorites and if new episodes would get added to my queue.

An additional problem is that I had trouble finding my favorites list. There is a “Shows You Watch” icon on the navigation bar but this includes you anything you’ve watched, not just favorites.

After much digging around, I finally found the “Favorites” screen buried under the “Browse” menu icon > gear icon for “Edit Account” > “Favorites” link. Here I could verify which shows will have new episodes to my queue.

screenshot of Hulu Favorites options on iPhone
iPhone Favorites screen

Android App

By comparison, the Android app makes it very apparent whether a show is a favorite by providing a big “Add to Favorites/Remove from Favorites” button on a show’s detail screen.

screenshot of the Hulu app on Android
Hulu app on Android

What’s less clear is how to manage which episodes or clips from your favorite shows get added to your queue. The “Favorites” screen provides shortcuts to your shows only and does not have the same settings as the website and iPhone app.

screenshot of Favorite shows on Android
Android Favorites screen

Design Recommendation for Hulu

  • On the iPhone app, use the add/remove button concept too. Move the plus icon for adding episodes manually to your queue next to the list of episodes.
iphone remove from favorites button
iPhone design recommendation
  • On the Android app, provide a clear way to manage the way favorites update your queue.
  • On the website, again use two labels: “Add to Favorites” then change to to “Remove from Favorites” after a user adds it. Don’t expect a check mark icon to perform double duty. Here it expects users to understand that the check mark means a show is a favorite and that clicking it will remove it from favorites. That makes my brain hurt!

Twitter’s Mobile Site Sign In Form

Originally posted in 2014 to my personal blog. Twitter has since made some changes to its mobile form.

Today’s usability issue comes from Twitter’s mobile website sign in page.

screenshot of Twitter's mobile website sign in form
Twitter’s mobile site sign in page

My username was pre-populated because I have used the site on my phone before. I thought my password was also pre-populated, because the placeholder text Twitter uses in the password field is a series of dots, which look just like an obfuscated password.

Sign in form with password placeholder dots
Twitter’s password placeholder text

Thinking my password was already entered into the password field, I tapped the “Sign in” button. The page refreshed and I wasn’t signed in, but I didn’t see why, so I tapped “Sign in” again, thinking the site had a glitch.

What actually happened was that I had not entered my password, and the error message on the page was located at the top in a light gray text, hardly noticeable, and resulting in frustration while I tried to figure out what was wrong.

Two easy fixes Twitter should make

  1. Remove the dots as placeholder text from the “Password” field. They are not necessary and cause confusion. Placeholder text in form fields are harmful because it makes it hard for users to know what information they have already entered.
  2. Move the error message next to the field where the error occurred and make it obvious. By placing it at the top of the form, away from the “Password” field, and making it a light gray, it isn’t obvious for users.

In working on a quick mock-up of these improvements, I realized that Twitter developers likely added the placeholder text so that users would know where to type. Without the placeholder text, it’s not obvious. That said, adding placeholder text isn’t the best solution.

screen shot of sign in form with field labels to the left and error message incontext
Mock-up of changes Twitter could make to the mobile Sign In form

Though Twitter has made some changes, such as removing the dots as placeholder text in the password field, it continues to use placeholder text and the error message still displays above the form in hard to see gray text.

log in form without field labels
Twitter’s updated log in form