Ah, Smart TVs, the vision of a smarter future. Or are they?
The industry philosophy – A philosophy of moving into a market with no clue what to do.
We are in the midst of numerous releases of TVs that do everything. The industry is right in this respect, TV’s should do more. Despite the incredible thinness and screen size, TVs look like dinosaurs… relics from the past. They are a product of the broadcast system, a system dating back to the 1930s for TV and earlier than that for radio. Much like the decreasing usage of traditional radio the broadcast system is experiencing erosion of its business model. The reality is they are becoming oversized tablets when the form factor isn’t right.
App overload on a form factor never designed for it.
Use of company’s paradigms in an unrelated form factor. If you are focused on using something your company is already an expert at, does that count as going into a new market?
They see TVs as monitors, not as cultural items. Similar to how a fireplace is more than just a provider of warmth and a ward against dangerous animals. It’s a gathering place, centerpiece, conversation starter, an escape and a whole host of other constructs society has placed on it in the past 80 years. This rich history has to be simultaneously thought of (for resonance) and ignored (for progress). The television set industry is almost completely on the side of ignoring what makes the TV a powerful and popular product.
People have a couple of needs when watching their flat screen: be entertained by shows, get important breaking information quickly. Smartphones are becoming the go to for the second need. Which is great for the industry, it takes tremendous burden off the industry to develop something that serves both. It also gives them some extra time to really look at some of those cultural constructs. But they don’t. Instead they go after the latest buzz-spec: Apps.
Apps can be great and even be a great platform to really leverage those rich cultural constructs. Non-standard interfaces for “Apps” can be good but generally aren’t. It’s a double edged sword. The problem is that having too many different interfaces on one device automatically eliminates the majority of the market from fully utilizing your product, the only people who can comprehend every single different service interface offered are young people who can’t yet afford your product and the costs of those services.
Mind and body ergonomics that are bent out of shape
Samsung TVs are an enigma. They have incomprehensible interfaces and yet are highly acclaimed by supposedly tough reviewers like CNET. Samsung’s SMART Hub TVs are lauded for boasting more apps and streaming services than the competition. But who wants to look at and navigate this every evening?
There is customizability but it just looks so damn silly. And I have to wave my hand around trying to do all this? I’m not surprised the suits designing this monstrosity didn’t hear this in their future customers’ voices: “I’m tired I just got back from work you stupid TV!” I’m a tech anorak of sorts who can set up a tidy home theater system, yet I don’t even want to bother trying to wrap my brain around this. Imagine the average user.
What doesn’t help them either is that they have so many different remotes on different devices, no consistency year to year. Sony has been great about this, the interoperability and design consistency of their remotes for the past 10+ years is a glorious lesson in encouraging repeat customers. Sony may be losing money on their TV division because they aren’t bringing that eye for user familiarity into the next generation of their products. Samsung’s never had that eye, so they and other TV brands are cluttering our lives and living rooms with junk “smart” TVs while they try to figure out that “smart” doesn’t mean half-baked.
I will give them credit for what is a decent concept: including two separate remotes in the box. One remote for initially setting up and another, sexier one for everyday use. But they screw that up by adding touchpads and gestures that users have to read the manual to understand. Users end up using the traditional remote because they just want to watch the game on channel 7 and it’s easier just to tap the button for it. That or users end up using a cancerous remote anyways because it has a keyboard grafted onto it and it’s necessary to use a feature of SMART Hub.
If I see a keyboard on a remote, I know the company doesn’t give a rat’s ass about the user experience. It’s nonsensical to introduce a control device more complicated than what it is replacing. There is a reason why people paid thousands extra to have all the RS-232 ports on their home theater equipment professionally set up for home automation. Because it’s friggin’ awesome and gets you to the best experience quicker and without having to touch too many things. It’s also great that we seem to be moving in a direction to bring the cost of that down. However, it’s the industry (not just Samsung) that is adding more layers of menus and confusion that only get in the way of being entertained.
Instead of nitpicking the remotes for a whole page, let me ask this question: “Are the companies too afraid to not have a feature?” Things like the integration of webcams into a TV might be a great idea for changing the nature of video communication, but it’s going to suck if it’s among a metric shit-ton of apps, buried in an interface you don’t use regularly and you have to flail your tired arms to use. The primary usage is to watch something fun, no one is thinking about how to quickly navigate to Skype for TVs; so if you want that to be a major selling point, actually put some thought into making it second nature on the device.
A recent release raises an important Q
The recent Nexus Q release raises a related issue about second nature computing and it’s relationship to Google TV. It’s the dichotomy of extremely simple vs super complex and how there is a fine line between them. Nexus Q seems like an Airplay-esque conduit for Android devices, which, in concept, makes it a super simple device to operate. GoogleTV is an interesting idea of using search for everything related to entertainment. Powerful concept, but does it actually work in practice? It goes back to what I was saying earlier, it’s a paradigm that doesn’t fit the form factor. You don’t search from a couch, you surf and just ride the content wave. Nothing has ever trained you to do anything more complex than a couple button clicks with a TV (if it has, you probably hated it). However, on the tablet and on an OS designed for searching, this can work because it’ll be second nature in this form factor. Searching on a tablet is a lot more natural to people who are already using them. After that, there is no resistance in just flinging content to the screen.
So yes, the Nexus Q will nullify the Google TV because it’s just a better concept from the get go. Will the Nexus Q be a successful product overall? I don’t know at this point. It is a bit expensive at $299 and requires a smartphone or tablet. Primarily, its success will be heavily reliant on Google’s Play ecosystem and I’m still wrapping my head around the the convoluted mission Play has.
But what about the revolution in this article’s title? Entertainment ecosystems will play a huge role in the change of television, not the actual devices themselves. In Part 2 I explore what it will take to seize the future in the TV market. Yes, I’m going to be doing a Part 2, and it’ll be a killer…