“Over-the-top”, or OTT, is the sexiest term in entertainment right now. We are on the cusp on significant change in a world that hasn’t changed a great deal in the last 50 years – and OTT sits at the centre of the inevitable and unstoppable merger between the worlds of television and digital video.
For app developers, as well as entertainment companies offering movies and TV shows on demand, the OTT opportunity is extensive. Platforms like Fire TV not only enable on demand streaming but also open a new screen to engage customers in their own living rooms via downloadable apps.
And it’s not just at home where users can benefit from OTT apps. The trend is also expanding into enterprises by allowing them to communicate with each other for minimal (or zero) cost. The robust growth of OTT apps such as Skype, FaceTime and WhatsApp, has changed the face of business collaboration, and the opportunities to build more and varied, enterprise apps are vast.
So how do app developers capitalise on this opportunity? And how can they develop for a new platform whilst still delivering services at the speed and quality consumers expect?
Overcoming the OTT challenges
Beyond the hype, there are many practical challenges of developing for Amazon’s app store and to distribute through Amazon Fire TV – and like any other major trend, it’s something which developers need to be prepared for.
Firstly, developers must deliver apps that work well on a new screen. In this world, the practice of ‘forking’ is important. In simple terms, forking refers to the borrowing of code from one project to be used to create a new project or variant. Amazon’s Fire TV platform is a forked version of the Android operating system. Developers must learn the fork differences and exploit them to deliver great user experiences.
In truth, if you can write for Android you can write for Fire TV – but of course, this isn’t where the challenge ends. The more fundamental issue perhaps is to help users get used to consuming a variety of apps on their TV. Whilst streaming movies and TV shows is second nature, other apps, like shopping or Internet browsing, just isn’t as intuitive yet. We see several ‘work arounds’ here – such as voice enabled functionality, or developments to remote controls, which can help improve navigation and ensure a seamless experience. Indeed, for users to not only stay loyal to the platforms, but extend how they use them, and consume new service and apps, quality must be a fundamental watchword for developers.
For DevOps, it’s crucial to have the right infrastructure to support a team responsible for delivering apps and services with high demands on availability and reliability. As with the development of any application, a smooth running, nimble team with clear responsibilities and roles is vital. Agile development practices will win the day for OTT platforms running mobile platforms.
Making testing a priority for quality assurance
Comprehensive testing is the key to quality assurance. But cross browser testing on desktop and mobile platforms is already getting harder and another screen introduces a greater level of complexity. As with any development of this ilk, new tests (manual and automated) need to be developed, executed and fit into the overall pipeline. And with apps delivered via OTT platforms, the primary challenge is the visual changes driven by form factor – the home TV screen varies from 32 inches to 90 inches, and an app must look seamless on all of these.
Automated testing must be optimised for the real world by defining user condition profiles, and by enabling testing across common scenarios such as degraded network conditions, constrained memory and handling notifications and pop-ups. Our own customers tell us that user condition testing with our Wind Tunnel and visual validation including measuring responsiveness is a vital part of testing for new environment like Fire TV. And of course, OS software testing defines test coverage for running different Android OS software.
So, with new ways to reach consumers, and ensuring more accessibility for apps, developing for OTT platforms like Amazon Fire is a no brainer. Amazon has made this an easy move for developers by helping them reach consumers on a platform they already know, on Android – and the opportunities are extensive.
OTT platforms are redefining the ways in which consumers can engage with their TV screens, and it’s important developers are ahead of the curve – able to deliver services at speed, while ensuring quality. Only then will consumers make the leap to using apps on a different screen, and will developers be able to fully capitalise on this new opportunity.
Rojenx is a leading concept artist who work appears in games and publications
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