Do you Really Wants Apps on your TV?

CES 2011 panel, “It’s a TV. It’s a Computer. No, It’s a…”; panelists from left to right: Colin Dixon, The Diffusion Group; Tim Alessi, LG; Richard Bullwinkle, Rovi; Jim Denney, TiVo; Vincent Dureau, Google TV; Phil Wiser, Sezmi.

This year at CES I sat on a panel with some very smart thought leaders in the television space.  Colin Dixon of The Diffusion Group moderated the panel, and brought in Vincent Dureau, head of TV technology at Google and Tim Alessi, head of new product development for LG, as well as executives from TiVo and Sezmi.

One very interesting point in the conversation came when an audience member asked if televisions would need a great deal more horsepower (processor and memory) to meet consumer performance requirements in the coming year.

Spokespersons from both Google and LG stated that the processor speeds and memory size would be much greater in TVs in the very near future.  Their take was that consumer demand for apps (or widgets) on TVs was extremely high, and that these apps would need much more powerful TVs.

Vincent and Tim are smart guys, but I must disagree:

First, I fundamentally believe that TVs are entertainment devices that should allow consumers to lean back and enjoy.  I believe the most important technology a TV can have is technology to bring a wide variety of entertainment choices and help the viewer choose the content that is best for them or their family, while keeping the experience simple.

Vincent gave an example that consumers will want to manage their Fantasy Sports Leagues on the TV.  I think most consumers have multiple devices better suited for that – a smart phone, a tablet, or even a laptop.  Sure, we may want a small banner at the bottom of the screen during a game that shows who is winning in the fantasy league. If you bring up a management screen to make trades, you alienate everyone who might be watching the real game. The same is true if you bring up Facebook, eBay, or other personal services while a group is watching a show.

Most widgets assume that one person can take over the screen, when in real life the TV is usually a group experience. Can you imagine passing around a keyboard so that family members can update their Facebook status or make trades in Fantasy Football on the big screen in the living while you’re watching your favorite team? And even individuals who watch TV alone have better devices to manage their apps than the TV itself.

I also believe that apps make the TV too complicated.  It’s hard enough to find good things to watch, but now we’ll have to find relevant apps, enter our information into the apps, and keep them updated. Earlier this week, Chris Albrecht of NewTeeVee, wrote on this exact topic. In his post, titled, “I returned my Smart TV Because the Apps Were Dumb,” he discussed the frustrating experience of having his new Smart TV and apps “crash” over and over again. He ended up taking the Smart TV right back to the store.

Although this is still a very new market and we’re still learning a lot about consumer use, if we’re going to put apps on TV, let’s make sure we get it right. If manufacturers are convinced consumers want apps, then let’s investigate ways to make these apps easier on the consumer without increasing the cost of TVs.

Stay tuned for our next blog post where we’ll explore how options like running apps in the cloud might alleviate some of the current issues.

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3 Responses to Do you Really Wants Apps on your TV?

  1. JR deSouza says:

    Great panel Richard. But I have to agree with Vincent & Tim, based on the following assumptions; other requirements will continue to drive TV processing power needs, and the apps will evolve. You correctly identify that the apps need to be smart and fit the use, not the other way around. But today’s TV are NOT smart in the same sense that phones & tables can handle video apps dynamically. Once TVs can do the same, the TV facebook experience will be different on the TV than on the mobile and so on. And you/I will be able to use different input devices in conjunction with the TV to fit our tastes. For example, I’ll be able to set my TV settings elsewhere (perhaps my laptop or tablet) to define how I want my TV experience depending on how’s using it. If each of my family members can use their mobile device as a remote anyway (iTouch, iPhone, iPad, other), the TV will already know how’s using it if I don’t already have Kinect capability built in anyway.

  2. pj dufay says:

    Hey Richard,
    I guess Rovi’s “Cloud-Based Digital Entertainment Web Services Platform” does not support Apps ?
    I think Rovi will not be able to compete on Smart TV market because TV Apps are a MUST. It is a tsunami that nobody can stop.
    The fact that the first TV Apps are not perfect will not change this long term movement.

  3. Thanks for the comments , guys. I have no doubt that apps will get better and that interaction will get smarter. And yes PJ, Rovi’s Media Cloud absolutely supports TV apps as well as MANY other kinds of apps. In fact, Rovi even builds TV apps for several different platforms. My point is more that we need to get it right. While stumbling on features and usability in easily replaceable platforms like websites and portable devices might be tollerable to some customers, the same is not true for TV users. Your TV cannot crash, and users who have a bad experience will simply give up. They certainly won’t replace a TV on a fast schedule just because we want them to. TVs have to be built for long-term use and new capabilities. I simply don’t believe the app platforms of today will last more than a year or two. If we build cloud-based apps, and allow smart TVs to smartly interface with portable devices, then we can help ensure greater longevity of a TV and a better customer experience.

    Either way, your comments are well received and carefully contemplated.

    -Richard Bullwinkle
    Chief Evangelist, Rovi