Disney+ User Interface Continues To Lag Behind HBO Max and Netflix

Disney+ UI Lags Behind HBO Max and Netflix

Recently I noticed a large crop of repeat complaints on r/DisneyPlus (subreddit community for Disney+ subscribers). Add to that my own frustrations and head-desking moment earlier this week when I discovered that the service still “traps users” on a recommendation page after they finish streaming a title and writing this felt like a duty of care.

After a title completes on the PC or Chromecast experience, Disney+ traps you on a recommendation page. It requires 2 clicks to return to browsing. Once on the “See Details” button, then another on the navigation bar.

Yes, folks, in 2021 a major streaming service actually TRAPS you on a page without any way to return home or navigate to another spot as soon as whatever you’re watching completes. Instead you have to click “See Details” on the title they recommend you to watch next, then from there use the normal “navigation bar” that appears on top as one would expect. On Chromecast with Google TV you can also hit the “back” button.

Here is a video I took demonstrating the issue with 3 titles as well as another issue where the Continue Watching history is not updated and titles do not leave when complete.

YouTube video demonstrating Continue Watching bugs

Now that you understand where I’m coming from, let’s single out 6 inexcusable issues for a service with 120m subscribers that has been around 2 years and is referred to by the CEO as the company’s priority.

1. Watchlist Implementation Is Barebones

This image is a screen of reddit search history showcasing how just within past 2 months there are constant complaints about the poor implementation of the watchlist. It keeps going I just had to cut the screenshot off somewhere. I’ve covered the need for watchlist improvements in a previous post.

Screenshot from Reddit search showing never-ending complaints about the Disney+ Watchlist.

Netflix allows 500 titles to be added to a Watchlist. Disney has a very small visible limit – the most recent 50 titles added. There is no warning once you add title #51 – it just bumps the older one off into a void until you’re back under 50. So if you’re looking for something old that you swear you added, it’s probably still there… invisible.

Much adieu has been made and complaints about a “bug” where the Watchlist isn’t present on the home screen. Nope – it’s not a bug. Disney built it the same way Hulu is built so that the Watchlist is a separate page ONLY. Literally all other services have it as a row on the home screen where it belongs. The watchlist is meant to help remind people what they intended to watch. Burying it on another page makes it useless to many.

Tweet from January 2000 by akingnotaprncss – We still wait for all 3 – thumbs up / down, content not for children, and a watchlist on homescreen.
Tweet from November 2018 by EmeraldFox23 – Days after launch people were asking for home page watchlist – still waiting.

What’s positively bonkers is 1 month after launch one of the Disney+ staff posted this tweet –

Tweet by Roshni Naik

One guy says how he wants to see the watchlist as a row on the home page. The response has to be seen to be believed.

Jonno, we’re still waiting.

She seems genuinely puzzled by the idea of a watchlist row. The very thing that the leading streaming service has been doing for – what – 10 years? “How would that work if you had 40 titles?” I don’t know… the way Netflix does it. Why would the quantity matter at all? Home screen rows scroll right.

Row for watchlist on home screen. 6 titles at a time, visible by the algorithm Netflix chooses. Usually “new” or “updated” stuff gets priority.

It’s possible she’s simply trying to coax more information out for research purposes and but it reads concerningly as if the Disney+ team hadn’t used a streaming service (at the time I guess really just Netflix) prior to designing Disney+. It strains credulity.

It’s also possible their thought process was that you should be able to “see” the full list at once. Which is again, not a big deal because Netflix allows that in addition to having the home screen row. The home screen row should either sort by algorithm or by most recently added so you’d see ~5 at a time and scroll right for the rest. See below for photo of Netflix “separate page” watchlist screen. In the time since Disney+ launched HBO Max, Paramount+, and Peacock used this Netflix model. That’s right, the three services that launched after Disney+ had both watchlist rows AND separate pages to view the full list on day one. Disney+ is still lagging behind in their own little world with Hulu.

Separate page for managing watchlist on Netflix. Available via the main navigation bar.

Let’s move on from the watchlist issues.

2. Continue Watching Limits User Control

Remermber that video I shared at the beginning? It shows some of these issues I’m about to mention.

It’s not acceptable to remove items from continue watching without a subscribers permission or the content leaving the service. No other service does this by design to the best of my knowledge and you know otherwise please leave a comment and I’ll update!

There are continual posts with angry customers finding that things they stopped watching were removed, as Disney makes a decision for subscribers to clean up. It’s not Disney’s place to do this. This is why other streaming services include a feature to manually remove items from the Continue Watching section. Even Hulu and Paramount+, the newest service, have this feature. Netflix is by the far most easy – just click the X. We show how the other services do it in an earlier post.

Beyond this, Disney+ also leaves things in Continue Watching after they’re completed which drives people crazy. Another thing is that at times viewership does not “register” progress or is not synchronized between apps. There are plenty of things I’ve watched on my Chromecast with Google TV app that don’t show complete view bars on the PC interface – but I watched them.

When trying to manually clear accidental additions the logical thing is to go to the title, drag the cursor to end of the credits and play the last few seconds. This usually works in most places but Disney+ often does not register this. I’ve found that to “clear” accidental additions or completed additions that won’t “go away” I have to do it through my Android mobile device. Otherwise when I return to the home screen the title shows zero signs that I had just watched it. I took a video to show what I’m talking about.

3. Playback Controls Lacking

When you view a series and pause, you’d expect to see options to go to next episode, previous episode, or choose another episode altogether. This is another feature Netflix has spoiled people with. There are often complaints about how much extra work it is for consumer / user to change episodes during playback. In this instance Disney+ is not the worst. Netflix is really the only service with good playback controls. HBO Max and Paramount+ are equally barebones to Disney+. Below you’ll see Netflix’s playback controls.

Netflix has the ability to report issues with a title right from the playback controls. Just hit the ? symbol. They also have a “Next Episode” button.

Another awesome thing Netflix has is the ability to change episodes / seasons from within the playback controls.

Screenshot of Netflix showing the season / episode switcher

Probably the weirdest feature on Netflix is the ability to change playback speed. But it’s fun!

Screenshot of Netflix playback speed controls

4. Coming Soon

People want a coming soon section – badly. Netflix and HBO Max have this covered brilliantly. I cannot emphasize enough how often people complain about this not being an included feature. Peacock has a “Coming Soon” row at the bottom of their home screen which is better than nothing. Disney+ Hotstar actually has a row like that too…

Screenshot of Netflix New & Upcoming page
Screenshot of HBO Max Coming Soon page

5. What’s New? Who knows!

Final major issue is the lack of promotion for newly added episodes or titles.

HBO Max screenshot shows NEW indicator on one title in the Just Added row. Well… 1 is better than none.

We’ve gone over this numerous times in other articles. We recommend reading both posts for the full details so this post doesn’t drag on any longer.

6. Dumb Thumbnails

I lied, there is one more thing. Once again HBO Max and Netflix get a gold star. If you hover over a thumbnail on the home screen, the option to add the title to your watchlist becomes available. Saving a click is a good thing. Netflix goes a few steps further and shares metadata such as how much of a match the title is for you, the rating, the amount of seasons, if it is in HD, and they’ll turn the thumbnail into a preview video. Absolutely incredible design. Disney+, Hulu, and Paramount+ require 1-2 clicks to get that same info.

Screenshot from Netflix of Charmed’s thumbnail

Final Thoughts

Disney+ has remained a firm 2 stars out of 5 since launch with UI. When people rate it well they’re rating it with a lack of understanding about what makes UI good. The UI is not user-friendly and lacking major functionalities. Not only that, but it is bland and monotonous. How people can consider a never-ending grid “good design” is beyond me. Unlike other services, for example, the Trending row in no way stands out from the other rows.

Screenshot of Disney+ homescreen – aka tile grid

The reason HBO Max, a newer service, is far superior is because the design team understands the importance of shaking things up and keeping it interesting. They use different shaped thumbnails, indent some rows, add descriptions to the row, and more little flourishes to keep everything from becoming a blur. Netflix does this exact same thing. Check out the images below for examples of both services. No logical person would say that Disney+ homescreen is more appealing.

HBO Max Home Screen – More Than A Grid

I will admit I’m not a fan of HBO Max’s vertical thumbnails being the default as it limits how many titles can be shown on screen at once. It provides more space horizontally, but less space vertically and overall equals less content on screen.

Netflix Home Screen – More Than A Grid

This bad UI issue is not unique to Disney+. Paramount+ and Peacock are struggling as well. Actual ux / ui experts have consistently pointed out the same issues – Disney+ requires way too many clicks to do anything. It’s not intuitive. Title pages use tabs, which hide extras behind a click. No notification on thumbnails on title pages that episodes are new. Only 5 episodes visible at a time on PC UI title pages makes finding things impossible and time consuming versus the episode grids on HBO Max, Hulu, and Paramount+ or Netflix and Peacock’s episode list format.

Rating The Streaming Services

Netflix 4 / 5 — Gold standard.

HBO Max 3.5 / 5 — Excellent visuals and solid feature set.

Disney+ 2 / 5 — Clean, but inefficient.

Hulu — 1.8 / 5 – Despite being a veteran, Hulu is riddled with bad design and inconsistencies.

Paramount+ — 1.3 / 5 – Missing features and difficult navigation.

Peacock — 1.1 / 5 – A Coming Soon row can’t make up for huge thumbnails and no features.

Prime Video — 1 / 5 – Impossible to browse library. At least they added profile avatars yesterday!

It’s time for numerous upgrades to bring the service in line with where almost ~120m subscribers should be.

Drew Ryan is a film, TV, and Disney geek. He has degrees in English, Student Personnel Administration, and Library & Information Science from Lawrence University, Concordia University-Wisconsin, and University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Interested in the minutia and licensing of streaming service content, he is always publishing lists, suggestions, and advocating for Disney’s missing library to be added to Disney+. Drew subscribes to Disney+, Hulu, Netflix, HBO Max, and Paramount+. You can find him waxing nostalgic over classic Disney Channel or geeking out over Marvel, CW shows, & Disney on Twitter.