HBO max launched the other day. On the surface its just another streaming service but somehow they got a number of the basics wrong. I assumed these were issues that would be quickly fixed but they remain issues in the app today, nearly a month after their public launch. These issues dont feel like bugs, these are conscious choices HBO Max made that are just plain wrong and should be changed.
The single most puzzling screen in the entire app is this profile setup screen.
Each profile gets a name and what they call a “profile image” which are 5 slightly different shades of purple ring? How is selecting one of these useful? They dont you quickly identify your profile because they are so similar, and its not like I feel like I got to express myself with this light blue hula hoop? Even just filling the circles would have make them 10x better but I’d still question why they needed this feature at all.
On top of that there’s clearly still some profile related bugs because at least half the time when I’m on “my profile” I’m seeing nothing but the Regular Show and Elmo’s “not to late” show, but then a quick restart and its back at home with Westworld and the Boondocks.
Another strange thing you might notice in the screenshot above is that the “lock” is on Orlando’s Profile instead of ours. If Orlando is on his profile and wants to switch to his he is forced to put in a parental controls 4 digit pin. Sounds logical so far but what you realize that the app remembers whoever was logged in every time you launch it. So that means if I want Orlando not to see my profile or watch any inappropriate content I need to remember to switch back to his profile after I’m done watching, otherwise he is just thrown right into it when he launches the app.
Apple TV works by making you type a passcode anytime you try to play any blocked content, no matter what profile you are on. Netflix on the other hand just asks who’s watching the every time you launch the app. Either of these two approaches works fine but the way HBO max does it makes the feature basically useless to us.
It’s not just profiles that feel confusing, simple things like browsing other episodes of a show seem almost impossible to find.
Take a look at these two screens.
Continue watching is the first row below the hero area which is great and oh look there’s the next episode of Westworld, great lets watch that. Lets say I feel asleep before the end of episode 6 so I want to go back and rewatch that, how would I do that? I see the world west world up there in the top left with a back arrow next to it, oh I bet that takes me back to the series page where I can find all the episodes. Nope silly me, thats just takes me back to the homepage. Maybe clicking on the word Westworld thats next to the back button, nope that doesnt do anything. Surely there must be some link back to the other episodes somewhere from here tho right? I see extras, behind the scenes, all great stuff but hell if i can find any way back to the episode 6.
Turns out the only way to do it is to open the menu on the left, click series, find westwold, then I’m there. Yuck.
Naming, Billing and Pricing oh my
This all leaves the biggest point of confusion for HBO max which is the one most folks are focusing on, its relationship to HBO. There’s HBO go, HBO now and HBO max. HBO go is what you get if you have a cable subscription with HBO and want to watch it online. HBO now is for cord cutters who just want to signup online, and HBO max is the same price as HBO now but works with a cable subscription or buying it online?
My hope this is a transitionary problem and they were planning to get rid of Go and Now and eventually just call this plain old HBO but it doesnt seem like they are planning to do that. HBO is actually a category of content in HBO max, cool thats not confusing at all is it.
It’s sad because I actually find myself watching stuff on HBO max quite a lot in the last month. Its a compelling offering of content so I’m planning to keep paying for it no doubt but for an app with a budget like this launching with clearly established UX that works really well its amazing how terrible this app feels. Especially when you compare it to other brand new apps in the space like Disney+ which was quite polished from day one.
I’m rooting for HBO to figure this out, but issues like this suggest a culture problem and problems like that can take decades to fix, if they ever get fixed at all