TED: Learning Comes With Compromises

I’m a huge fan of TED Talks. I don’t know too many people who aren’t fans of the service, and I’m jealous of my friends who managed to find time to make it out when there was a TEDx event at my alma mater.

That being said, there might be some of you who don’t watch TED videos or listen to TED podcasts. Heaven forbid, but maybe you’ve never actually heard of it. The TED app on Android might be the perfect way to get into it. Read on for our full review.

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What is TED?

Just in case you aren’t familiar with it, it’s probably wise to go over what TED is and what makes it awesome. TED is basically a non-for-profit organization that makes inspirational and thought-provoking videos available, for free, every week.

According to TED’s About page, there are more than 1400 videos currently available. No matter how you slice it, you won’t be able to catch up. But a lot of the talks are really interesting. TED also curates some playlists, to make it easy to find videos that might interest you. Part of my work involves design, so I love this playlist about design called The artist is in.

I’ve seen some really cool videos about psychology and improving your life on TED, and always end up checking out the service when I’m having a rough day. Writing this review was, in some ways, pretty challenging because I just wanted to keep on watching videos.

The Android App

TED wants to make sure that all their videos are viewable on any device, so you can get their official app right on Google Play for both your phone and tablet. It’s a great way to get introduced to TED, and if you’ve never watched any TED videos, you should check it out right away.

Ted's Android app has a customized interface for touch screens.

Ted’s Android app has a customized interface for touch screens.

But if you watch TED videos all the time, you either already have this app — or maybe you had no idea and I’m blowing your mind. Let’s take a look at the app and compare it to TED’s already-excellent website.

The App

Whenever I sit down to review an app, I have to stop and think. What is an app trying to achieve? Does it include all the services that I think are necessary for mobile use cases, or is it missing something? Of course, that’s an app’s design philosophy. It’s one thing to say that an app is well-designed, but in the end, a good design doesn’t go very far if it doesn’t translate into a powerful user experience.

The app does have some charms.

The app does have some charms.

The TED app is well-designed, by any standard. It’s easy to navigate on phones and tablets — it’s particularly a joy on my Nexus 7. I like the tablet’s widescreen display for TED videos; it works very well and it looks great.

Video looks great, especially on the Nexus 7.

Video looks great, especially on the Nexus 7.

And navigating the app couldn’t be easier. Newcomers to TED Talks won’t have a problem making their way through the app, but members of the TED community might instinctively notice that some of their favourite features on the website are missing.

Member Login, Nada

The most disappointing thing to me about TED is that I can’t log in with my User ID and begin commenting, bookmarking and favouriting videos like I do on the website. Of course, I can bookmark videos within the app — handy, to be sure — but I can’t bookmark them across devices.

So if I want to start a video on my Nexus 7 and finish it on my MacBook, I better remember where I was when I get back to my computer because there’s no way to bookmark a video for reference. That means there’s also no way to pause my video on one device and continue it from another, à la Netflix.

I couldn't start the video above on my Nexus 7, save my place, and resume it from my Nexus 4. So I just started watching something else.

I couldn’t start the video above on my Nexus 7, save my place, and resume it from my Nexus 4. So I just started watching something else.

That doesn’t even introduce bigger problems, like a lack of comments. Say what you will about comments on the Internet, but a lot of people on TED are interested in sharing a real intelligent opinion. And they’re a good read. I rarely contribute, but I do find the chatter interesting — and I can’t say that for a place like YouTube. 

But mostly, the app isn’t a truly horizontal experience. Horizontal experiences work well across multiple platforms. While the app is well-designed as far as an interface goes, and I enjoy using it, any bookmarking I do effectively traps me within a single device. And when we live in a multi-device world, that’s a problem.

A Huge Disclaimer

Now, TED isn’t exactly interested in providing the service that I would like them to, or they don’t seem to be. And I’m not trying to be ungrateful; after all, it is free and this might be the best quality free product on the Web.

TED's solution is to let you download any video you like straight to your device.

TED’s solution is to let you download any video you like straight to your device.

The website doesn’t exactly do everything I wish it did either, unless you’re within a playlist. For some reason, if you’re in a playlist, you can bookmark the exact second of the video you’re paused in for reference later. You can’t, however, do the same thing with just a regular TED video.

What I’d like to see from TED costs money in server space and it costs a lot of programming time. Services like this are always expensive and very difficult to perfect. But in a perfect world, wouldn’t it be nice to start a TED Talk on one device and continue it on another? I can barely sit still for five minutes before something comes up, and I don’t even have kids yet. It would be a useful featureset for everybody.

The Bottom Line

As it is, I heartily recommend the TED Android app for a couple reasons: it is well-designed and very easy to navigate. I think most people who watch TED Videos would love it. I really like watching videos on the app, and think it has a great interface. Besides, you can’t discount the quality of TED itself.

But the problem is that it still feels pretty stark. Why can’t I bookmark videos across devices? Why can’t I save my place across devices? Why can’t I mark a video as a Favourite across devices? And I really wish I could sign in and leave a comment on a video, or at least read through some comments. What makes the situation more irritating is that the potential for TED is there. TED could be a leader in this category. Instead, the app feels a few generations behind.


The app isn't perfect, but the videos are amazing and make it worth the download on all your devices.

  • TED 2.0.1  | 
  • Free  | 
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