Customer first. Product second. I’m a firm believer that with any product or service, the customer’s experience is one of the most important factors in order to achieve long-term success. In 1997, Steve Jobs said on the stage of WWDC that, “You’ve got to start with the customer experience and work backwards to the technology.” While this statement was geared towards producing technology that customers can easily interact with and doesn’t require any technical expertise, the same principle applies and should apply to overall user experience.
It doesn’t take a software engineer or user experience researcher to come to the conclusion that the reason why Apple is successful is because they made the user experience clean, elegant, and easy to navigate. On the other hand, if you look at the early versions of Android Cupcake or even Gingerbread, there was little consideration for user experience. Only with recent versions of KitKat and Lollipop has Google played catchup and really refined menus, layouts, and the overall user experience.
Enter Slingbox, the set top box that connects to your cable/satellite box and allows you to stream content to an online web player and any computer or smartphone. For a one-time fee for the hardware, Slingbox allows you to access your DVR content and even remotely navigate and control your cable/satellite box with the provided IR blaster and an on-screen simulated remote. Slingbox markets itself as a way for sports fans, information junkies, military personnel to access their media, frequent travelers to stay connected without needing a VPN, and college students, like myself, to access home TV so they don’t have to pay for local cable.
For months, I’ve enjoyed the product and have even recommended it to friends and family. Unfortunately, everything changed a few weeks ago when an innocuous “minor fix” update claiming to address performance was pushed to my laptop. Without hesitation, I installed the update and relaunched the Slingplayer Desktop application. To my surprise, I was greeted with ads. Not TV commercials, but a banner and sidebar ad. I couldn’t believe what had happened. Slingbox pulled a bait and switch.
A few days later, I received another software update. Thinking that it couldn’t get any worse, I installed it. Surprise surprise, now when I launch the Slingplayer application, I’m greeted with not only the two banner ads, but also a 15-30 second video ad. Below is the video ad, followed by the two banner ads.
As much as I enjoy hearing about great deals at Olive Garden and how Raisin Bran now has cranberries, they ruin the user experience. I use my Slingbox so I can watch TV. Watching TV means watching, or at least listening to, commercials. Adding launch commercials as well as banner and sidebar ads is downright disgusting and not why I purchased my Slingbox.
Ads aside, that’s not why I’m writing this. I’m writing this post because Slingbox is not only destroying user experience, but also deceiving future customers in the process. A quick visit to the Slingbox website or their Amazon listing shows no ads on any of their product screenshots and makes no mention of ads. If you go to their pressroom and download the press kit, there are no product screenshots with ads either. You have to either own a Slingbox or read someone’s updated review to know that Slingbox now has ads.
Obviously, Slingbox added ads as an extra revenue stream. I get that. If you want to include it, fine. Go ahead, but it would’ve been nice to be informed ahead of time instead of pissing off all of your loyal customers. On top of that, deceiving future customers with misleading product screenshots and not informing them of the sidebar and banner ads is a terrible way to conduct business.
Customer first. Product second. Time to find an alternative.