Why Don’t TV Manufacturers Get It? Stop Making TVs!

It’s been a couple years since I wrote about no one wanting 3D and people wanting Internet enabled TVs. TV manufacturers still don’t seem to get what people want. We either want TVs to be the same passive viewing experience they’ve always been or we want them to be internet devices (or probably both at the same time).

If Apple comes out with a TV, I don’t think it’s hard to guess what it’ll be. It will not be a TV. It will be built from the ground up as an internet device with a big ass screen whose primary use is displaying content.

There was a survey recently released that said less than 15% of Smart TV owners are using the smart features. This isn’t particularly surprising because most ‘smart’ TVs aren’t very smart, don’t have well thought out apps that take advantage of it, and still want you to use a remote. Why? Because TV manufacturers still think they’re selling TVs.

Let’s go back to what Apple would release… and if they do, all the other manufacturers will go ‘ooohh… that’s how you do it. (And I’ll point out that I’m not an Apple fanboi… but they do have a habit of releasing game changing devices, so I’m using them as an example.)

Anyways…  features of an Apple branded big screen internet device:

– Great, easy to use User Interface. It will be different than the Mac or the iPad, as they are good about customizing the UI for the device, but probably bear a resemblance to the iPad. This is something other manufacturers have not wrapped their head around. The UI for accessing Smart features usually sucks and is not friendly to non-Techies. Also, you will be able to interact with the device via your laptop, iPad, phone, whatever.

– Remote? What Remote? You will be able to use any internet connected device to run an app that controls the TV. Many (if not most) of us watch TV with another device in hand, and this trend is growing. There is no reason to have a remote when you can use your secondary device to search for content, drive apps and games on the TV, and seamlessly move content from the small screen to the big screen with a swipe of the hand. And don’t forgot about Siri…

– Apps and Games: From the getgo, there will be some cool, very polished apps and games that take advantage of the bigger screen and environment a ‘TV’ is typically in (e.g. living room). Games are one of the biggest catagories on iOS devices. I’m assuming Apple would go after casual ‘Wii’ users with a vengeance. I wouldn’t be surprised if you could purchase an add-on game controller. You’ll certainly be able to use your iPhone or iPad, but if you’re staring at the larger screen, the feedback you get from physical knobs and buttons is useful for games.

– Easy way of channel surfing. With all that content, automatically finding content you’re interested in and allowing you to flip through it will be critical. AppleTV already has a good recommendation system, look for that to be improved on and be a central component.

– Fast processor: Putting a processor in the machine that’s fast enough to do what’s needed is critical. Too many current Smart TVs are still developed as TVs and thus have crummy, underpowered processors making the ‘smart’ experience sluggish. Couple that with the lousy UI and you’ve got a horrible user experience. It’s no wonder no one uses the smart features.

I think there’s a lot of folks out there that want internet connected devices with a big screen. They don’t want TV with an internet plug. It was called WebTV. It sucked 10 years ago, and the idea still sucks today. I don’t want to move a cursor around with a remote. I want to use my mobile device to access different intuitive screens that let me easily find content and view or play it on the larger screen. And with 10,000 channels to select from, it better have really smart content curation so I can channel surf and EASILY find content I’m interested in.

I’ll be at CES and I’m sure there will be many TVs with internet plugs. We’ll see if anyone actually gets what they’re supposed to do with that plug. I don’t think it’s that hard to figure out. But you have to stop looking at the device as a TV first, internet device second. It’s just another screen in our multi-screen universe. And it’ll probably take Apple to do it right.

2 thoughts on “Why Don’t TV Manufacturers Get It? Stop Making TVs!”

  1. A big part of me hopes that internet tv in the form of a ‘tv with all the brains integrated’ never happens. I was charged with creating a native app for a Smart TV platform last year… as you point out the seriously under-powered cpu and lack of ram made this very difficult. The end result may have technically worked- for those who were adept enough to discover the app through the TV’s challenging, slow-motion ui- but talk about a ton of effort for basic results.

    Today the best features and functions are happening via boxes in the middle with Xbox 360, PS3, Roku, Apple TV, etc. At least these dedicated boxes seem to have the resources to produce a responsive ui, handle voice commands, and the like.

    What worries me is the desire of tv manufactures (or Apple) to ‘own the tv space’. Obviously we keep moving towards more integrated, ‘throw away’ devices- but I really wish that tv companies would pull back on trying to put so many ‘brains’ into their screens- and just focus on really good screens (yes, I also doubt that will happen). Whatever happens, I hope there is a trend towards being inclusive vs. content lockouts- allowing the ability to watch content from the (non-iTunes) major app stores- Netflix, Amazon, Google Play, Hulu, YouTube, etc.

    It will be interesting to see what crops on for the OUYA device next year. I believe the majority of the big web video services (save maybe Apple & Microsoft) currently have native Android apps/players for their video content. It’s not likely we’ll ever see an app to play iTunes video content on Android from Apple… and I’m not sure the OUYA founders are positioning the device to be the kind of ‘media center’ device the Xbox 360 or even PS3 have become.

    Still waiting for that ‘magical everybox’ that plays every kind of content. At the end of 2012, it seems like the best device for that… is still a laptop/HTPC!

  2. Hi Greg,

    Thanks for the comment. I mostly agree with you. One of the reasons I hope it’s not Apple that releases the Magical Everybox is that if it’s Android based it’s more likely to be inclusive of many types of content.

    I think part of the problems that you ran into with your app is what I’m talking about. They need to stop looking at the TV as a TV, in the same way Apple took the iPhone and reinvented the cellphone… not by building a phone, but by creating an internet enabled mini-computer that could make phone calls. But, yeah, it’ll be interesting to see how it all shakes out.

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