Matt Whitlock, DijitCommunity: Thank you for taking the time to speak with us today. Please, take a moment to tell us a little about you and what you do at Dijit.
Jeremy Toeman, Dijit: I am a veteran of the future of TV industry. I've helped build a couple-dozen products, everything from the first digital media receiver with HP to the home DVR with Denon. Probably the best known is the Slingbox, where I was in charge of building and marketing; it was a resounding success. I've also worked with companies like Boxee and Vudu. I joined Dijit in June to run all product marketing efforts.
That's quite a history you have, with a lot of well known products.
I try my best.
Let's talk high-level for a minute for those who may not know what Dijit is. Saying it's an app is only part of it because it's a lot of things. How do you describe it to people who have never used it?
There is kind of two Dijits; the Dijit of today and the Dijit of the future. Dijit of today is an app capable of controlling all the devices you have in your living room and provides you with a socially enabled TV guide.
It's also an app that's been exclusive to iOS since the very beginning, at least until just recently, as is now available on Android. What were some of the challenges Dijit faced developing the Android app? What did the team learn?
Well, I came on board this summer and initially there was kind of this "We're going to...," for lack of a better way of putting it, "copy the iPhone app and just make it work on Android. Over the course of the summer it became very clear that was just not going to work. I don't think it was the right thing for the product; I don't think it was the right thing for Android users. We really had to step back and say, "How do we bring in the same type of features and type of services to an Android device, but not just copy exactly what we built before?" That was a good chunk of the work to get it going.
Did you find developing for Android more challenging from a technical perspective? There are certainly a much wider variety of devices with varying screen sizes, resolutions, and buttons.
I think it is significantly more challenging, actually. The reality of Android is that it's a real pain to do things right. You know me Matt, I'm a BIG end-user focused guy. (I can 100% verify that based on past gadget discussions with him.) And so, if you are looking at it from the perspective of "just building an Android app," you'll end up making something that's not going to work across many devices or at least not 'well' on a lot of devices. In our little view of the world, at this point there are three different types of phones. We divided everything into our categories based on the resolution of the screen. Some phones have the same resolution as a tablet, while others have a resolution far lower than that, like in the 640x480 range. The result ends up being such a different experience because you just can't only make graphics scale; when you scale things up it starts looking ugly. The fundamental challenge was creating something really great that Android users would want to use. That was kind of our mantra.
Is that why in a blog post you said Dijit views the Android software as a totally separate product, even though it kind of emulates the iOS app. Do you see Dijit moving in totally different directions on different platforms?
They are, unquestionable, a different product. What we will do moving forward is continue to treat them as separate apps, but they will share a core functionality on both platforms.
Speaking of that other platform, there has been some news on the iOS side. Just the other day there was a big announcement that Dijit is going to be iPad friendly, optimized for tablets. Can you tell us a little about how the Dijit experience on iOS going forward compared to the past?
There's almost no comparison between the two. The new iPad app is such an amazing difference in how we look at things. When using the iPhone, you're more likely to think of it as a remote control. On a tablet, like the iPad, it's more like a console for your living room. Another way to think about it is that you can pick up an iPhone and do a couple things with it, and it's great. But the iPad is like having all of this stuff at your fingertips all at once. On the iPad, we don't have to sacrifice you looking at your remote OR looking at your TV guide; everything is right there all the time.
Would you say that the new iPad version is just more of the Dijit screens at once, or does it go beyond that?
Right now it is mostly having all the features of Dijit available to the user at the same time.
It may not sound like much, but from looking at the screenshots, it looks like the experience it offers is much different.
It's drastically different, it's hard to even come up with the right words to describe it. Early users, though, really love the direction we're going. When you bring all these things together at the same time, it gets really exciting.
So you have this new iPad layout, and all these different screens with different stuff all at once. And then you have this other screen that just has giant buttons on it. Jeremy, what's with the "big ass buttons?"
The big ass buttons are awesome! In some ways, people were already doing this on the iPad by just 2Xing the iPhone app. Sometimes you just want to have a remote where you really don't have to think to hard about where you're pushing; where it's just there and works for you. It's kind of a jokey name for that view, but it's great fun and a feature people really like.
Do you think there's going to be a view where you get all of your normal sized buttons on one panel, rather than multiple panels of giant buttons?
We're looking at doing stuff like that. There's clearly demand for features like that.
Beyond just the new optimized iPad experience, your blog post teased some improvements to the iPhone/Touch side of it as well. Can you share what some of those are?
One of the big things we've improved is the overall look and feel of the app. I think our first version has been pretty good, but at the end of the day I feel our app looks fairly "masculine" in a lot of ways. I think it's a kind of cold looking experience. I really want to improve on that. I really want to make something that people would really find more comfortable. I think the new version does that; I'm very happy how it came together.
The software side is one aspect of Dijit, and that's what you guys focus on. For those who want to actually control the devices there's a hardware component needed, called the Beacon. That's not made by Dijit though, but by Griffin.
The question that's come up several times since the Android product came out is that Beacon is a Bluetooth device, but it doesn't work with both iOS and Android. I'm sure there are people with both platforms, maybe an Android phone and an iPad, for example. Why is that?
I've heard all kinds of different statements about it, but the gist is that it's a matter of the chips that were selected to be a part of the product.
Do you see a more universal Beacon coming down the road, or do you think this will always be a separate hardware device per platform?
I can't really comment for Griffin; wouldn't be appropriate.
How closely does your team work with Griffin on the hardware products? Is there a lot of collaboration? Does Dijit ever intend to bring the hardware in house? What are the advantages or disadvantages for doing so?
Doing hardware requires a lot of capital. A lot of people think doing the hardware is just buying the components and having a factory, but really there are so many different pieces of the puzzle : distribution, customer service, support, retail marketing. It takes so much do these things well. which is probably why so few hardware companies really do a great job at it. Hardware is hard.
Our partner is Griffin, and they're the world's largest smartphone accessories manufacturer. As a result of that partnership, the Beacon is at every Apple store. It's available internationally. When you go into a retailer, it's placed at eye level, and it's been there since day one. That's a hard thing to do as a startup. The trusted relationships a company like Griffin has with a company like Apple make it so it's so much easier for us to just be a really good software company. This partnership allows both of us to focus on what we're naturally really good at.
So, it lets you focus more on the user experience and less on microchips?
On the Beacon's features specifically, there have been numerous people really hoping for some big improvements on the IR side of Dijit, like being able to program remotes on a desktop and move them to the device, macros for all buttons, customizable graphics... things that would make it compete more with a fully featured universal remote control. Do you see more improvements like this coming to that side of the product?
Of course. We're always looking to improve those things; ask any company that makes hardware if they want to make their hardware better. The answer is always "absolutely." I think we make a great product now, but of course we want to do more, better, faster... and we'll get there. To specifically address some of the things you asked about, I'd say there's stuff like that coming, but I can't say if it will be in the short term or not.
When you asked earlier what Dijit was, I gave you the short term 'right now' answer. The future though is that we want to be that app you use to do two things. First, is finding out what's on. We don't want to only include broadcast television, though. We want to include over the top services, internet providers, YouTube... anything. If you're finding video to watch, we want to help you find it. Second, we not only want to help you find it, but help you also get it going somewhere. Discovery is an important part, but discovery needs to lead to playing it on an Apple TV, an LG TV, a laptop, iPad, or whatever else they want to use.
Today, we have a lot of those elements in the product, and the Beacon is an amazing device. Every device has a remote right now, so the Beacon is great with that, but the future is a more "digitally" connected home. And so if you've used our app to control a Roku, you know that you don't have to use a Beacon for that. We're going to incorporate more and more digitally connected devices to compliment the analog ones. That's a lot of what's under the hood right now, and a lot of where our focus is.
Where else do you see Dijit going? Android is out, which was a highly desired app. So do you move to another platform, like Windows Phone or Blackberry, or do you go a completely different direction?
Both apps will kind of piggy back each other in terms of features, so if you see something come out on iPad it will likely come to Android and vice-versa. I don't see us hitting any new platforms anytime soon, it's hard to really justify that right now. Our current goal is to make our iOS and Android offering as strong as we can.
What about the desktop? Do you see any use or demand for having a desktop version? Say, looking forward to more tablet like devices running Windows 8.
I'm not sure yet if we would focus desktop - say HTML5. It's so much more flexible. We know that people want control on other platforms, we just have to figure out the right way to do it and get the most bang for the buck. I don't know if we have a real market for computer based remote control, but if we do the right thing through HTML5 we can work on Blackberries, smartphones, Palm devices, and whatever else might be out there, as well as any computer.
There's nothing firmly in place on our short term roadmap. Right now it's all iOS and Android.
Now, you personally, spend a lot of time looking ahead at the future of television. Where do you see the TV experience now as compared to five years from now?
I have a fundamental philosophy on where things are going. Consumers are gaining increasing control over how they consume content. In the next five years you'll have more ways to buy content, watch content, and view content on more devices that you already own. All the signs are in place for that. Are you going to be able to subscribe to ESPN without being a cable subscriber? Probably not, but I'm sure it won't be quite as disparate as it is today.
With that, we'll see the bulk of TV sold over the next five years be connected TVs. I think connected TVs are marching toward dev terminals and not "smart" TVs. I think you'll see a wave of these app-centric smart TV designs, and then not as everybody realizes they don't want any of those apps and wants other stuff instead. Lastly, and I don't mean just Dijit, but I think the second screen as a TV interface will be a really big deal.
What about the social aspect of it? Do you see social becoming more and more part of content consumption?
Yeah, but not the way people are doing it right now. There' s this weird fad of paying attention to Twitter, hash tags, badges, and stickers... it's kind of goofy. It has to be more organic, to more naturally follow how people recommend content to each other and don't force them into it. Otherwise the same thing will happen to TV that happened in restaurants with Yelp.
For the last, and probably most important, question. How do you feel about the return of Arrested Development?
Three words: Jeremy love show.