TED’s Room For Improvement

I don’t have a cable subscription. I keep up with my television exclusively with Netflix, and since Netflix doesn’t offer as much TV in Canada as it could (or maybe should), I also use my Apple TV to watch shows I love as new episodes arrive (here’s looking at you, Mad Men). I don’t have time to watch a lot of Youtube. I know, I’m missing out on a lot of memes and I must lead a very boring life. But I love TED.

For those of you who haven’t heard of it, TED is an incredible free service that filled to the brim with informative videos from special TED conferences — sometimes motivational, sometimes de-motivational, and often about science or psychology. The TED conferences are all over the place, and if you aren’t able to attend, TED makes them available for free on the Web and in a great free universal app for iPhone and iPad. When I have fifteen minutes and I want to watch something, I often watch TED videos, and very usually fill my rare days off with them. The app is a great way to experience these videos, but is it perfect? Read on to find out how TED’s service could get even better after its recent update to iOS 7.

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Making Videos Accessible

You have to applaud TED. Their tagline/motto/catchphrase, “Ideas worth spreading,” is really resemblant of the cool work that the company is doing. Making these videos available for free is even cooler. The app supports the new user interface in iOS 7, going with a design that could ostensibly be labeled flat. This is one of those rare cases where calling the design “flat” isn’t an injustice or an insult; it simply is an exact description.

TED hasn't changed a lot, but it's flatter.

TED hasn’t changed a lot, but it’s flatter.

With that in mind, TED is one of the few apps that actually seems to benefit from going flat from the get-go. The new UI elements in iOS 7 put the focus squarely on content, and since TED is all about quickly finding and watching videos, there’s an appreciable difference in clarity with the iOS 7 update.

The app doesn’t completely use stock UI elements, though. The video and podcast players have in-house designs straight from TED that are a little more cluttered than the stock offering, but offer considerably more function. Like the video controls in iOS 7, the controls in TED are also slightly opaque. The focus remains squarely placed on content.

Curating a Playlist

There are some new things in TED now, though. TED loses the ability to view Talks by theme, but searching by Tags is easier than ever. You can still download video or audio versions of talks for on-the-go use for free, which comes in handy when you’re travelling. (I like listening to TED while driving, if I’m not using Rdio.) I will admit that browsing talks by themes was one of my favourite features of the old app, and I miss it dearly.

You still have access to familiar features like the built-in podcast.

You still have access to familiar features like the built-in podcast.

That being said, my favourite element in the iOS 7 app is making a playlist. If you tap Inspire Me, it’s really easy to create a playlist based on categories like Inspiring or Persuasive. The app will ask you how much time you have to watch videos, and automatically select some talks for you. You can always choose to watch them later.

I love the new Inspire Me design.

I love the new Inspire Me design.

You can still bookmark videos as well, although TED now sorts them by length (which makes it easier to watch something if you only have a limited amount of time). Bookmarking videos to watch later remains one of the app’s strong points, although it’s also one of the cases where its need for improvement becomes quickly evident.

Room for Improvement

With the iOS 7 update now would be a great time for TED to start improving on its services. I’ve got quite the long list, and for a website with this much traffic, I’m surprised TED isn’t already ahead of the game here.

It's sad to me that I can't save my Bookmarks across devices.

It’s sad to me that I can’t save my Bookmarks across devices.

Primarily, I want to be able to create a TED account that would let me log in and maintain my bookmarks and viewing positions from a variety of different devices. One of the big problems with TED for me, right now, is that bookmarks I save in my iPhone while browsing are not available for me in my list of bookmarks in the app on my iPad. Because there’s no back-end syncing, there’s no way for me to have the apps connect over the air.

I’d also love the ability for TED to remember where I am in a video if I walk away or get distracted. I’d love to start a video on my phone and resume it on my MacBook later, or vice versa.

Some videos are quite long, and I wish TED would remember where I left off with a premium sync service.

Some videos are quite long, and I wish TED would remember where I left off with a premium sync service.

Some of you might be shaking your head at this, but I’ve been mulling it over for a couple months now and I really do think it’d be a great service. I know a lot of diehard TED fans who would happily pay for it, if it did. Imagine an annual subscription fee of $12 that got you access to any of your bookmarks from any device. You’d never miss a video again, and most importantly, they’d be available from everywhere. Not only that, but maybe TED could lose the ads for premium subscribers as well.

Final Thoughts

TED’s iOS 7 update is a mixed bag. On one hand, it very much benefits from its new interface. And while it’s certainly not a flaw and it’s hard to complain when all of these videos are being given away for free, I’d love an annual subscription method to save my bookmarks across devices.

As it is, TED feels a little nicer on iPad to me. The bigger screen is better for viewing videos, and since they’re often important parts of TED’s overall experience, that’s the machine I’d use it on if I only wanted to keep the app on one. For what it is, TED is free — but it’s certainly not without flaw.


TED is filled with great content and it's free, but I still think there's plenty of room for improvement with its services in our cloud-connected age.

  • TED 2.2.1  | 
  • Free  | 
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