Do TV Apps Have a Future?
2011 saw the birth of TV Apps - small web applications that sit in a menu ready to be revealed at the press of a ‘Smart’ button on your new TV’s remote control.
You could be forgiven for not knowing they exist; any smart TV before 2011 was a mixed experience, and connecting your home network broadband to your TV isn’t as natural as connecting your games console or laptop. According to Forrester, half of all connected TV owners never link them to the internet.
The fight starts here for internet content provision
TV manufacturers are hoping to bypass your set-top box, laptop, tablet and games consoles who are all updating themselves to become more sophisticated media centres. Each claims easier access, TV integration and a larger choice of content.
However, the TV app adoption numbers are sobering, but changing rapidly.
In Q1 2011 only 4% of Hulu and Netflix viewing was via a smart TV, with laptops and even the three major games consoles proving to be more popular platforms.
Google are also busy moving their own ecosystem away from web widgets; they want a connection between Java-based Android apps on smartphones and TVs running Android itself. They note that TV will become more personal and social, more engaging through better discovery, and more global in its content delivery.
They believe smart TV will follow the smartphone path, including the apps and store models.
Will TV apps succeed?The broadcasting industry seems to think so, as do powerful brands vying to get their content across all models. However there are problems to overcome.
A lack of standards across TV makes and models means that a single build for each platform has its own development kits, bugs, quirks and of course, limitations and build technologies - not to mention the challenge of creating a good user interface from your 10-foot viewing position.
Add this to the fact that some manufacturers are still experimenting with which platforms to use year-on-year, while others are trying hard to create unique features on cheaper, more powerful hardware. Each player is in the process of trying to differentiate themselves from the pack and entice consumers into buying in the showroom.
But there are rays of light.
The lessons of poor content and poor user experience from systems that date back as far as the 1990’s are being learnt. Manufacturers are paying attention to features that give enhanced content, social interaction and make use of web cameras. At the same time, it’s just as important to realise what we don’t want to do on our TVs - email is a particularly painful experience.
Development-wise, Adobe are creating a cross platform Adobe Air technology for TV, a Flash-based software kit that will cover all the major TVs. Opera, the browser developers, are also creating a portal it hopes will be adopted by multiple manufacturers. Both provide welcome tools to developers trying to avoid spending all their time converting from one platform to the next.
Last week at CES a whole new set of connected TV features were announced for future release; gesture, voice and facial recognition are coming, and Samsung are releasing a hardware-upgradeable TV set to help future-proof the experience.
Like they say, ‘It's been the year of connected TV ever since 2008’, only this year it might be true.
James Laming, Senior Technologist in Technology and Innovations
In your opinion, will TV apps succeed in 2012? What will encourage viewers to use TV apps? Let me know what you think in the comments below.