You want me to touch WHAT now?!

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Can you hear that sound? (Cue crickets) That, my friends, is the sound of your media not automatically playing on your iOS device. And hence the title of this blog post, because we now need to ask our users to touch something we didn’t necessarily have to in the past: a play button.

Now, as most of you would know, iOS devices are fantastic at making media accessible anywhere, anytime. However, in order to protect users from runaway data charges, they have a limitation which hinders a common feature of elearning content: the automatic playback of video and audio.

You know the drill: the user clicks next, the new page loads and the audio narration begins automatically. This isn’t possible on an iPad, because the OS requires the user to trigger playback of the media when a new HTML page loads. And so today I’d like to share our experiences in tackling this issue.

The obvious solution is to simply ask the user to play the media every time you load a new page. This is what it looks like on the ABC’s Reading Eggs and Mathseeds programs.

Audio trigger on ABC Mathseeds

It doesn’t have to be this crass. This example is clearly a reactionary afterthought deployed to enable users to run the courses on iPads. My 4 year old absolutely loves doing these activities on our iPad, and while he is never short of things to bug me about, having to press play between each screen is not one of them. So why would we invest time in finding a more complex solution when even a child (such good natural arbiters of user experience that they are) isn’t fazed by an extra button tap.

Ultimately we wanted to maintain a user experience that was free of distractions and clunkiness. The beauty of automatic playback is that the technology disappears and the user is focused on the content. By asking the user to press play every time we wanted them to listen to something, we felt we were taking a step away from what users have come to expect.

There’s also the minor but annoying issue of requiring the user to tap “next” and then having them tap again, this time on a “play” button, to get the audio content going. We figured that in most cases, click- or tap-minimisation is preferable, and that most users would find this double tapping cumbersome.

So what do we know? We know we need the user to make an interaction with a new page in order to play back media. And we know we don’t want an overt play button making the user feel like they have to do more work to engage with the content. So what’s the solution?

One solution was to put the entire course on one page. With everything on the one page we could fire off media events at will with a single tap. The downside here is that the course would take forever to load on slower internet connections. We needed a better solution.

As with all well-produced media, there is often an element of smoke and mirrors used to enhance the audience’s experience, so we thought the best solution was to trick the user a little bit and disguise the play button as content. Better yet, we figured we could disguise it as content that would reinforce and add value to the course’s learning objectives. I mean, that’s why they hire us, right?

So we designed a screen that followed the existing interface’s look and feel but with enough variation to differentiate it from the primary content. This was placed on top of the primary content screen. We then leveraged the humble old “continue” button as our patsy. This is what we call our “audio trigger”. The “continue” button here serves as the trigger to firstly hide the audio trigger screen, and then begin playback of the audio.

Audio trigger sits in a layer above the primary content screen.

Our audio trigger in action.

From the user’s perspective they’ve merely navigated from one screen to the next and so the technology remains invisible. More importantly the user has further engaged with a key point from the training.

We then took this idea to our client and asked for a series of “interesting and fun facts” about the company. These would add regular mental breaks and a layer of quirkiness and humour, while helping inductees get a sense of what their new employer was all about. We interspersed these throughout the course along with messages reinforcing the key points of the training.

Navigational issues when hitting the Back button.

And there we have it. We can appear to trigger audio for a screen automatically without overtly asking the user for more interaction and all the while adding value to the training. Win, win, right? Not quite. Some of you may have noticed that this creates a black hole in the navigational side of the course.


Tapping the back button no longer takes us to the last screen we saw. Tapping back lands us on the previous page’s audio trigger, which from the user’s perspective is two or three screens back, not one. In a course that allows forward and backward navigation you could argue this creates a larger user experience problem than it solves. And we’d agree, it does.

So what’s an even better solution?

The obvious answer is somewhere between the thing we tried to avoid and the thing we wound up doing. Instead of completely hiding the primary content screen, the trigger needs to be integrated into or on top of it in a way that doesn’t break the navigational flow when the user hits the back button

We’re expecting more and more clients to roll out training on mobile devices like tablets, and until mobile-Internet-data-costs reach a certain point, manufacturers like Apple will continue to protect their customers from runaway data charges by controlling media playback. It’s why they do it. So coming up with solutions of this nature is going to be important.

Now over to you. Do you have a better solution? Please share any problems and/or solutions you have dealt with when handling media in iOS-targeted training content.

Justin Cruickshank is a media production specialist with 11+ years industry experience across film and video production, journalism, music and audio production, digital production and elearning production. He’s now enjoying life with The Learning Hook as our Lead Learning Designer/Project Manager.

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