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February 13, 2013

Dark Knight Rises + SmartGlass
— 5 Takeaways

Last week the Work at Play team gathered in the space we call the garage to watch The Dark Knight Rises (the final installment in Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy) and explore its Xbox SmartGlass experience.

Work at Play has already developed a number of SmartGlass apps for Xbox Live. Naturally, we have a keen interest in figuring out how SmartGlass experiences can be paired with a highly engaging story like The Dark Knight.

Movies like The Dark Knight are more often than not watched with friends and family. Fortunately SmartGlass allows four devices to independently sync to the Xbox; so each person can have their own experience. Since we had an audience greater than four, we hooked up one of the iPads to a second TV screen so everyone else could see the second screen experience as well. 

The Dark Knight Rises SmartGlass App — Content and More Content

Dark Knight Rises SmartGlass App offered two separate and distinct experiences: 

1. Related content to the scene you are currently watching

2. Video guide of the movie

Related Content:

The main experience presented 6 topics of related content for each scene. The topics updated as the movie played to reflect content  for the current scene. 

Tapping a topic provided content like photos, maps, background information on designing the characters, weapons and vehicles, and video clips from the director and other members of the filmmaking team. 

Dark Knight Rises Smartglass content

Video Guide:

The second SmartGlass experience was the video guide for the movie. As you watched the movie, the pictures and names of the characters in the scene at any one moment were shown. As characters entered or exited the scene, the interface updated so only relevant actors were shown. Tapping an actor brought up an overlay with information about that cast member, and their bio and filmography. 

Another part of the video guide allowed you to move through the time code, skipping ahead to a different scene, which then played on the Xbox.

You can use the SmartGlass app as a remote to pause, fast forward, rewind, or jump to a scene.  This is a much more natural navigation experience than using the Xbox game controllers.

The Second Screen Content Challenge

While there was a ton of content, most of our group found it overwhelming. Some were seeing the movie for the first time and wanted to be immersed in the film and only wanted to see essential or contextual information.  At one point during a fast moving scene the second screen was showing sewer cover designs (insert head scratch). These viewers eventually gave up the app altogether and just watched the movie.

Others who had already seen the movie wanted to get into more of the director or actor bios (i.e. less Catwoman and more Anne Hathaway.) However, finding the content on demand was not easy or intuitive. Because the video guide and the main Dark Knight Rises experience were hard to navigate between, it was easier to jump to IMDB and Wikipedia, which kind of defeats the purpose of a second screen app.

Second Screen and Split Attention

Designing an experience that requires us to shift our attention from the big screen to the second screen is a challenging design problem.  We have some experience in these challenges when we created a second screen experience for our hack-a-thon. It’s not easy. 

If SmartGlass apps are going be used to enhance the overall experience of watching a movie, it needs to find a sweet spot where what’s onscreen is not just a big content barf. The second screen needs to give users an alternative view that supports the movie experience, while not distracting from the main event. 

Dark Knight Rises Smartglass Split Screen

One of the features I found very effective on a subsequent viewing of the movie was the choice to “sync app to movie” or “sync movie to app”.  That gives the ability to browse the SmartGlass app timeline for interesting content, and then jump into the movie at the relevant point.  

Dark Knight Rises Smartglass Sync Screen

Opportunities for SmartGlass Design: 5 Takeaways

It’s early days for SmartGlass apps and these first apps give us a chance to analyze what makes experiences fun and valuable, and what fails to enhance the primary experience. Here are some of our key takeaways:

1   User experience design for the second screen needs to take into account existing research on multitasking. You can successfully multitask when one of the tasks involves a skill that is already “embedded” in your cognitive abilities, exemplified by the GPS example for Forza on the Xbox. You need to design for the divided attention a split screen necessitates. Designing for “flow”, that pleasurable state identified by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi where challenge and mastery is balanced, will be critical to the best experiences.

2   Content strategy will be a key differentiator of successful SmartGlass apps. In The Dark Knight Rises, the SmartGlass content was overwhelming and it felt like you were drinking from a fire hose. The most compelling content needs to be offered in the right place at the right time. 

3   Successful movie companions could offer intelligent modes that align better with different watching habits. More is not necessarily better when watching a movie for the first time. However, on a second or third viewing, deeper content can be highly engaging.

4.  Navigation needs to be seamless — more intuitive and fluid. I often felt like I was tapping on buttons to go backwards, reversing my way back up the information hierarchy. We’re used to that kind of interaction in desktop metaphors, but the gestures possible in a touch interface could make the navigation feel more natural. A big win would be to optimize the shift between multiple experiences within The Dark Knight Rises such as the video guide and the main SmartGlass app content. 

5.  Designing for second screen experiences requires hands on engagement. In The Mobile Frontier, Rachel Hinman calls out the need to develop empathy for the mobile context. Our group experience brought out insights as well as ideas that could spark different models for second screen experiences. TV, movies and games are all viewed in a different context. Solitary play or group viewing all present opportunities for different kinds of experiences based on a deep understanding of context.

SmartGlass, the Second Screen and Moving Forward

The Dark Knight Rises movie night was part of series of multidisciplinary events we’re having at Work at Play to build insights and foster innovation for the digital living room. What do you think about the SmartGlass concept or other second screen experiences? I’d love to hear your comments, questions and ideas!