No Really, “Up Next” is Terrible

After finishing my last post, “Podcasts App Changes in iOS9“, I couldn’t stop thinking about the “Up Next” feature. I looked at the app on an iPad, the increased screen size making it easier to explore the UI, and came up with these insights.

You Can Delete and Reorder Some Episodes

Once I added several episodes manually to the “Up Next” list on the iPad, I noticed the reorder icon next to each episode. Standard hold and drag to reorder works. I could also swipe left to delete episodes I added manually.

screen shot of the iOS9 Podcast app on an iPhone screen
iOS9 Podcast app “Up Next” screen on iPhone

These options aren’t available for anything else in the “Up Next” list, though.

The Flow is Broken

It took me a couple of hours to fully understand and document how the “Up Next” list works because it seemed to change unpredictably. Let’s walk through some examples.

Unplayed Episode Use Case

You want to listen to a specific episode after the episode you’re listening to right now is finished.

  1. Go to the “Unplayed” screen to add an episode to “Up Next”.
  2. Tap the menu icon to the right of any episode. (It looks like three horizontal dots.) This brings up a screen overlay with several options. Tap “Add to Up Next.”

    screen shot showing menu options: play next, add to next, remove download, mark as played, save episode, view full description, share, and cancel
    iOS9 Podcast app episode menu
  3. You should get a quick confirmation message flashed on the screen.

    screen shot of the confirmation icon with the word Added
    Add to “Up Next” confirmation
  4. The episode you just added to “Up Next” will start playing as soon as the current episode ends. Sweet!

(You can add multiple episodes to “Up Next,” with each appending to the bottom of the list. But if you want to remove one or reorder the “Up Next” list, you’ll still have to find it first!)

Cut In Line Use Case

You’re bored with the episode currently playing and you want to listen to another episode immediately.

First, you add one episode to “Up Next”, then you try to play another episode.

  1. Go to the “Unplayed” screen and tap the episode you want to listen to. Oh, what’s this alert message?
    screen shot of alert message: After playing this, do you wan to play the episode you've added to Up Next?
    Alert message when playing an episode

    This is important: If you already have episodes in the “Up Next” queue, you see this confusing warning without context for the consequences and no way to view the current “Up Next” list.

  2. If you tap “Keep Up Next“, the episode you tried to play starts playing, and the episode you added to “Up Next” remains in the queue to play afterward. This is what I expect to happen why I try to play an episode. Getting a warning is annoying and makes me think I did something wrong. If you choose “Clear Up Next,” the episode you added to “Up Next” is removed from the queue, your “Unplayed” list becomes the new “Up Next” list, but only those episodes older than one you just decided to play. So, if you have 10 unplayed episodes, and you play episode 6 directly, episodes 7-10 become the new “Up Next” list.

    screen shot of the Up Next list showing Now Playing and Up Next episodes
    “Up Next” list replaced with Unplayed episodes

Play from “Up Next” List Use Case

While listening to the most recent unplayed episode in your queue, you add a couple of other episodes to the “Up Next” list, then want to swap the order.

  1. You go to the “Up Next” screen to review the the queue.

    screen shot of the "Up Next" queue with several episodes listed
    iOS9 “Up Next” queue screen
  2. While looking at the queue, you decide you’d rather listen to one of the episodes under “Resume: Unplayed”, so you tap it to start playing.You then return to the “Up Next” list to finish swapping the two episodes you added before. Except, where is your “Up Next” list? The section “Up Next: 2 episodes” with two episodes you just added manually has disappeared. WTF?

    screen shot of the "Up Next" queue
    “Up Next” list changed without warning

Podcast Group Use Case

You want to catch up on several back episodes of your favorite podcast.

  1. Go to the “My Podcasts” screen and browse to your favorite podcast.
  2. Tap the first episode listed to start playing it. (If you have anything added to the “Up Next” queue, you’ll get the alert message screen.)
  3. For grins, you look at the “Up Next” queue and see that now, instead of being populated by the “Unplayed” episodes list as before, it’s now populated with unplayed episodes of the current podcast only.
    screen shot of the "Up Next" queue listing episodes from the current podcast only
    “Up Next” screen for a single podcast

    Design Recommendation

Bring back the “On-the-Go” station concept, a list that:

  • I can populate manually
  • Doesn’t change based on where I choose to start playing an episode (the “Unplayed” list, the “Up Next” list, or a podcast’s page)
  • Doesn’t throw confusing warnings at me about keeping or clearing the contents

As a weak substitute, you can create a custom podcast station that mimics “On-the-Go”, but it auto-populates based on station settings only. You can’t add individual episodes to it from other parts of the app, and this includes re-adding an episode you removed from the station.

The bottom line is that “Up Next” is way too complicated to be useful every day.

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!