HBO Max on Monday unveiled a redesigned user interface for desktop and mobile apps, enhancing both content discovery and app functionality.
The revamped app was in the making since last September, HBO Max said, when the service began upgrading the platform for connected TVs. Now HBO Max users across desktop, iOS, Android and Amazon Fire tablets can tap into the app’s new features.
HBO Max’s update offers a cleaner, more intuitive navigation panel to make titles better stand out. Tablet users have the option to toggle between landscape and portrait modes for the UI.
Mobile users particularly get a boost with access to HBO Max’s shuffle play button – a feature the service first rolled out in March but was previously only available on desktop and CTV devices. Viewers on the app can use the shuffle play feature to randomly play an episode from a selected list of TV shows.
iOS viewers on HBO Max’s ad-free plan can now stream content with fellow subscribers, thanks to new support for FaceTime’s Shareplay feature. Shareplay lets users share media like music and video – including screen-sharing.
This feature is only available to U.S. users, and all Shareplay participants require an HBO Max ad-free account.
The UI upgrade also comes with a new-and-improved screen reader, for people who may have trouble visually accessing digital content. Adding onto mobile functionality, HBO Max mobile users can now split screens with other apps on supported devices.
“The changes give our users more of the features they care most about, along with improved navigation and a more immersive canvas for storytelling, helping them click play on their favorite content faster and with less friction,” said Kamyar Keshmiri, SVP of product design at Warner Bros. Discovery Streaming, in a statement.
Many of these new features came requested by users, HBO Max said, and the app has a history with technical issues. When HBO Max first launched in May 2020, it was based on the tech stacks of the now-defunct HBO Go and HBO Now services.
Sarah Lyons, head of product experience at HBO Max, told Protocol WarnerMedia at the time rushed the app’s release to stand a chance in the increasingly competitive streaming space.
But using the framework of HBO’s legacy on-demand services meant HBO Max didn’t have a lot of flexibility with content discovery.
“You didn't have to go find anything [on HBO Go], because whatever [show] you were looking for was going to be at the top of the home page,” Lyons said.
It looks as if the new HBO Max will be short-lived, as WBD just announced plans to launch a singular HBO Max and Discovery+ streaming service sometime next summer.
JB Perrette, president and CEO of global streaming and games at WBD, said on the latest earnings call the combined service would bridge HBO Max’s premium content with Discovery+’s slate of unscripted shows.
WBD last month halted the production of HBO Max originals in several European countries, for cost-cutting purposes and to further integrate the content libraries of its SVOD services.
There’s also the question of how a combined WBD app would affect HBO Max’s possible reappearance on Amazon Prime Video. Discovery+ is already available on Prime Video Channels, which just received a massive UI makeover of its own.
Even before HBO Max rolled out these app enhancements, consumers were generally satisfied with the service in terms of content and price value, as research from Whip Media suggests.
And the standalone HBO Max app has a slew of forthcoming content titles. The “Game of Thrones” prequel series “The House of the Dragon” is set to release on August 21. While the fourth season finale of “Westworld” will premiere August 14.