[Interview] Browse Reddit on a TV with HopWatch

HopWatch
Reddit, for those of who you do not know, is branded as ‘the frontpage of the internet’. It’s a social network where individuals can curate content in subreddits. Each subreddit can be focused around a particular topic or theme. For example, anyone interested in Android TV might want to visit /r/androidtv.

The vast quantity of visual content makes it a great site for populating a media application. Justin Ghan has done that with his app HopWatch, a Reddit client for Android TV. The app has been in the Play Store for roughly the past six months for $0.99 to buy. If you want to try out the app first, you can download the trial version.

I interviewed Justin about this app and about Android TV apps in general: where they’re going and what the user experience looks like.

On HopWatch

Hopwatch1
You can browse content from various topics or search

How did you come up with the idea to put Reddit in a TV app? Why Reddit instead of a different social network?

Since I first bought a Chromecast, I would browse Reddit on my phone and cast videos to my TV. It was a very clunky experience – lots of looking back and forth between the TV and my phone. And it wasn’t a very fun living room activity with others in the room waiting for me to pick a video, unable to see the list themselves. So when Android TV came along, I knew this was the perfect platform to make watching Reddit videos much more comfortable.

I spend a lot of time (too much!) on Reddit, so it was a natural choice for me. I always develop apps which I want to use myself; if I was building an app for others, then I don’t think I’d be motivated to put so much time and energy into development.

You have published two apps in the Play Store, one of which is HopWatch. The other hasn’t been updated in a while. Why did you return to developing your own apps?

I still love my first app Regularly and use it every day. I’d love to return to it and give it an updated design and add more features. Unfortunately I just haven’t found the time for it yet.

I always have one or more personal projects to keep me busy – some of them are just for my own use. In fact, I originally didn’t plan to release HopWatch on the Play Store and intended to just develop it for my own use. Obviously, I eventually changed my mind and decided it was worth the extra effort to share the app with others. Also, I was (and still am) very excited by the potential of the Android TV platform, and wanted to do my part in contributing to the app ecosystem.

Is this app something that you’ve built by yourself? How big is your team?

Yep, it’s just me! At times it’s been tempting to look for outside help with design, which isn’t my strength. But in the end, it feels really great to have built every part of the app by myself.

On Social Networks on a TV

Hopwatch4
The app shows recommendations from different sources

There’s a handful of features in the app such as recommendations. How did you decide which features to prioritize?

Recommendations and global search are essential Android TV features, so I knew from the outset that HopWatch would have these. As the app’s number one user, it’s easy for me to judge how much impact a feature will have.

What is the coolest thing about HopWatch? Does any of it feel like magic when using it?

I’m really proud of how easy it is to navigate through a subreddit’s posts; I hope users will agree that it’s the best way to browse media posts on any device.

Browsing Reddit on a TV is a different experience from a phone. How does the form factor play into your app’s user experience?

It’s definitely a completely different experience! On TV, you want to keep user interaction to a minimum – just make it as easy as possible for them to get to interesting content. And most people come to their TV for audio/visual media; they don’t want to read a bunch of text. For these reasons, I’ve focused on image and video posts on Reddit. Showing text posts and comments are a lower priority for me.

Thinking about other social networks, which ones do you think would work the best on a TV?

TVs are really for media consumption and I don’t think they’re quite ready for the level of user interaction that many social networks require. I think Reddit, Instagram, Tumblr and Pinterest are a few examples which would work well since there is plenty of image and video content which could be easily browsed using a remote.

There is a barebones unofficial Instagram app for Android TV (Santi). What would you say is the largest barrier to any social networking company making a TV app?

Navigation is tougher on the TV, and typing is tedious. I think the biggest challenge is making it easy for users to get to the content they’re looking for with minimal button presses, and ensuring voice search works really well.

On Developing for Android TV

HopWatch3
Images are beautifully displayed with metadata shown at the top

Your app has been available for a while. How successful has it been so far?

Since launching around six months ago, I’ve had a slow but steady trickle of users discovering HopWatch, currently amounting to a couple of hundred downloads. I think app discoverability has been pretty hard for small developers so far. It looks like recent updates to the TV Play Store are moving in the right direction to improve the situation.

What advice would you give a developer who is on the fence about making their app support Android TV?

TV apps are going to be big in the future, and developers today have an opportunity to stand out by being among the first in the field. It looks like Android TV is quickly becoming more widespread, and there will be an ever increasing user base searching for great TV apps.

What’s the next step for UgglyNoodle? Are you planning on building more Android TV apps?

I have plenty of ideas for features to make HopWatch even better, so those will keep me busy for the foreseeable future. As for other Android TV apps, I don’t have my next big idea yet.

On the Android TV Platform

HopWatch2
You can browse photos and videos from each subreddit

What Android TV device do you use most regularly? Do you prefer to use a simple remote or a gamepad?

I have a Nexus Player, and almost exclusively use the remote – I’m not much of a gamer!

What is your most and least favorite thing about Android TV?

I love that Android TV has turned what were previously solo experiences into shared living room activities for families and friends.

I’d say the biggest downside is probably the slow rate of Android TV support from both Google and third party apps and games.

When Android N is announced for Android TV, what is the thing you’re hoping to see the most?

I’d love to see casting better integrated into the platform. Casting YouTube from your phone shouldn’t take over the whole device; it should just open the Android TV YouTube app and allow you to continue browsing with the remote. Generally, tighter and more seamless interaction with nearby devices would be great. Imagine if you could just ask your phone to bring up more details about whatever’s going on on your TV screen.

What kinds of subreddits do you usually browse?

Most of my time is spent on /r/all. With HopWatch, of course I browse /r/videos and I’m also a fan of /r/youtubehaiku. On phone/tablet/PC, I read /r/android and /r/androidtv, and I also enjoy a lot of movie and television related subreddits.

Conclusion

After spending some time using the app myself, I agree that it is a great way to browse and watch content from Reddit. If you’re interested, you should buy the app on the Google Play Store, or sideload the trial version.

Nick Felker

Nick Felker

Nick Felker is a student Electrical & Computer Engineering student at Rowan University (C/O 2017) and the student IEEE webmaster. When he's not studying, he is a software developer for the web and Android (Felker Tech). He has several open source projects on GitHub (http://github.com/fleker)Devices: Moto G-2013 Moto G-2015, Moto 360, Google ADT-1, Nexus 7-2013 (x2), Lenovo Laptop, Custom Desktop.Although he was an intern at Google, the content of this blog is entirely independent and his own thoughts.

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  • Pedro Verdugo

    Great app, actually never heard of it before.