I’m so glad the Internet wasn’t invented by some crazy Korean hardware manufacturers, collaborating with American cable guys. Just calling a device smart and adding some clickable icons doesn’t add any extra intelligence.
Compare the smart phone with the smart tv. The first makes your typical phone tasks a bit easier, simply by adding a smooth user interface. It puts some networking and computing power in your pocket, adds some extras like GPS, and offers even financial incentives for developers to do some great, new things. Thank you, smart phone.
How about the smart tv? The main task of the tv set is being a window to another world, constructed by mostly really large corporations. The last three inventions making your viewing task a bit easier were the remote control (you don’t have to stand up for your right to choose), the VCR/DVD (buy or rent whatever you want) and the PVR (you don’t have to be on time to meet you favourite tv star).
Compared to those three game changers, the smart tv is still a rather weak contender. Yes, they’re selling well. Because it’s hard to find a tv set with a decent screen and no built in internet access. But people aren’t really using the “smart” part. So why would that be?
Let’s have a look at the idea of the app. Most of the apps on my iphone are just easing up things I could do as well on a browser. But hey, the phone’s processor is rather slow and its screen a midget. Apps make life easier for me, because they shrinkwrap a task so I can hold it in the palm of my hand. Even more important: Where or when do I use it? Only, if there’s no larger networked screen with sizable processing power around. (The ipad app use case fits just in between. You’ve got the extra space to handle the slightly larger screen. But you’re not schlepping around a powerful laptop.)
Now, let’s compare those use cases to the current promise of the smart tv. Assume, you’re just two people watching CSI. Wouldn’t it be kind of rude to overlay parts of the screen with your personal Twitter stream? The tv app does not add anything to tv’s core use case: watching tv. It’s either watching tv or app watching. Even more important: you bear with the tiny screen of the smart phone, because you’re on the road. Sitting on your couch, you surrounded by a wifi cloud and you have the choice between laptop, ipad, smart phone – and the tv remote. For all task and things not connected to watching tv, the smart tv loses (no privacy, meager screen resolution, cumbersome data entry …). And smart manufacturers now even get rid of the dumb remote, and stuff it as an app in your phone or tablet.
One of the rare tasks where a smart tv makes sense is finding stuff to watch. But even here, we should look more into well constructed back end systems, than watching out for appy eye candy. To be sure, displaying static information on a tv set is quite a challenge. But the real value does not come out of a grid display of tv shows currently on. The value is in the meta data, the ability to get any video content you want (hello, generation YouTube), starting from a single point of entry. Which could be an app on your tv screen, your tablet, a web browser, whatever.
See, from it’s heritage, the tv is a window to an outside world. Or, technically speaking, a rather dumb displaying device. Will stupid evolve into something like a fully capable large screen ipad on the wall – or more likely resemble the screen attached to a desktop PC?
I guess the interesting part starts in the grey area in between: how much smart will do good?
Upcoming: there’s a rotten app in my smart fridge and where’s the app store in my Smart (as in car)?