More fun with SmartTV apps: TuneIn

Published by marco on

tl;dr: The login requirements for all of your linked applications and web sites should be 100% consistent. Data-entry on a Smart TV is hard enough; don’t make your users have to enter their login data 20 times.

No matter how amazing our technologies become, they still fail in so many small ways that no-one seems to want to talk about. We manage to solve all of the hard problems in software development and then let our products die on the homestretch. Tiny failures turn what would be wonderful user experiences into complete failure.

For example, I have a Samsung Smart TV. I listen to podcasts on my computer but when I’m in the living room, it would be nice to be able to listen to them on the nice sound system attached to the TV.

A search for podcast software for Samsung TVs indicated that some people were using the Samsung Apps for this, but it wasn’t clear that this would work with audio podcasts. It also wasn’t clear which app people were using.

Still, I browsed to the palette of available apps and found one that seemed promising: TuneIn. That sounded about right—I wanted to tune in to podcasts, get it?

The app’s boot-up time was a little slow but I wasn’t feeling finicky yet. Yet.

I was able to relatively quickly browse to a section called podcasts. There’s no way to search by title, though; you can only browse by category. I was looking for Dan Savage’s Lovecast and had no idea into which category a family-friendly app like TuneIn would have thrown him.

So I backed out and searched by text—no small feat on a TV with a standard remote control—and found that Mr. Savage’s podcasts were available. Huzzah!

I could even play one, but I could only play whichever random episodes the search deemed most relevant. There is no way to browse from a podcast episode to the parent podcast, much less mark that as a favorite.

So, I decided to try the other way around. I would attack it this way:

  1. Create a user account at the web site, from the comfort of my laptop
  2. Add the podcast to my list of favorites there
  3. Log in to the TuneIn app on the TV
  4. Browse to my favorites
  5. Profit!

Starry-eyed, I created a user account with a nice, secure password. I used a spamgourmet address instead of giving the to-me-unknown TuneIn App my real email.

Steps (1) and (2) flew by in minutes.

Encouraged, I started the TuneIn app on the TV and logged in.

Wait, I can’t enter my username.

It’s too long? What the hell does that mean?

There’s an arbitrary 29-character limit on the length of a username in the login box of the Smart-TV app for TuneIn. I can’t think of a reason for this limitation.

I can’t log in with my brand-new account.

Fine. I don’t care about that account anyway. I’ll create a new account with a shorter username.

Boom. Done. Same password.

Back to the TV. Start up TuneIn. Log in.

Username/password not found.

What? That’s the right password. I checked it three times. It works on the regular website.

Wary of the crappiness of this TuneIn app’s login functionality at this point, I changed my password from the laptop to no longer use any non-alphanumeric symbols.[1]

I logged in with my short username and the brain-dead password and was greeted with a logged-in TuneIn app on the Smart TV. Finally. I didn’t expect to have to debug their stupid application. Doesn’t anyone have QA anymore?

I stabbed the favorites button on the left-hand side and saw, with relief, that the Savage Lovecast showed up in my list. Steps (3) and (4) are complete. My plan is finally working! On to step (5)!

I selected the podcast.

“Playback not supported”

What?

It turns out, dear reader, that playback for individual podcasts is supported on the Smart TV TuneIn App, but that the poor dear has no idea what to do with the podcast itself.

No idea. Too hard.

So the engineers just gave up.

As will I.

I will have to find another way to play a list of audio files from my SmartTV. I’ll probably end up just downloading the files from a real computer and copying them over to my NAS. Like a caveman.[2]

Adieu, TuneIn.com.

We only knew each other for a scant few minutes and each one of those minutes was terrible.

You shall not be missed.


[1] This is absolutely inexcusable. If my password actually does contain non-alphanumeric symbols and the input device is capable of entering them, then there is no reason that the application should disallow those keys before sending the password to the server. What the TuneIn App does is to strip characters from a password entered by the user. This is so stupid that it should be punishable by law. Or at least excommunication from the world of programming for the developer of that bug. Or perhaps the project manager who skipped QA? Or the QA tech that just phoned it in and never tried a tough password? Or the product owner who didn’t make a use case with a more security-conscious user who actually uses symbols in their password? Potential failure on so many levels. Software is not easy; that’s why writing it requires trained professionals.
[2] This, of course, works just fine. I have to manually manage the list of items but at least it’s straightforward and it works. I can use more sophisticated software on a desktop to manage my lists and just sync from there. This is the state of mobile/device software these days, I guess. Still in its infancy.