Saturday, October 9, 2010

Application Over TV

My venture into Application TV started a few months back when I was in search for a new TV. My goal was to buy a nice size flat screen and write some applications for it. Well I was quite a disappointed when not one provider had opened up their platform.

I defaulted to purchasing a Samsung 46" and while happy with the TV and the Netflix application everything else was lame. This all changed a few months back when this article on Programmable Web popped up on Samsung Free the TV. Since then I spent some time trying to understand TV development and have built out some initial prototypes for myself (and my kids).

In that time I have learned quite a bit about the platform. Shaping my own design considerations and development patterns. While finding my way to these ideas, I realized they seem to be at odds with how many of the existing applications are built. In my view, the current applications being built are not going to change our TV experience but here are a few thoughts that might have an impact.

1. It's only exciting if we integrate TV and Applications.

Why would you write something which takes up the whole screen and removes the TV experience? Why would facebook be a whole screen application?

These type of applications are as exciting as watching grass grow. Why can't I watch my show and update my status?

Another view type I have seen possible is the wrapped view. Perhaps some information context to the side and the TV show on the right. I can see this for integrating your stream view of the world into your current program. However, why wouldn't I just cozy up with my laptop and just let my eyes keep flipping back and forth. With the miracle of DVR I really do not miss anything.

My belief is that TV and Application are merged together. As you can see from the video, I wrote a simple Pong application which overlays the TV. The kids are watching a ball game while playing pong. This integrated view has been very popular with my boys and they have been very active in giving me feedback, finding bugs and generating a list of new games to develop - I need to get them writing code.

2. The remote must change.

I have not investigated the future of remotes but the life of the remote for the past 40 years must come to an end. I think folks like OpenRemote are trying some interesting stuff on the latest hardware but those platforms are not remotes. If you want to innovate with the remote you must start at the hardware level. Most recently I have switched from traditional mouse to magic mouse and now magic pad. Not being a hardware experience expert I am not sure what will work but it feels like the magic pad is on to something. With the flick of fingers I should be able to wave channels up and down or swipe four fingers and get a selection of channels I should be able to tap.

The other change for the interaction is support for multiple inputs simultaneously. Not to create a high end gaming environment but to allow some form of multiple user interaction.

3. I need access to the stream. Sorry Apple TV, Google TV and everyone else not owning Fiber to my house!

When building my little prototype applications I have came across numerous times where I want to interact with the signal. What is the closed caption text? What is the current channel? Where is there a face on the screen? Is there metadata I could tap into?

The reason I can not is because I am at the TV and not the cable box. The cable box has the best chance of winning this game. Perhaps they integrate Google TV or perhaps they expose the technology they already have. But folks like Samsung or Sony will have a tough time when the set top box not only gives me the overlay but access to the meta data.

Comcast, Verizon, Cablevision - what are you folks thinking? Verizon please learn from your mistakes with BREW. I believe there is a lot more to the relationships with the content providers and data providers limiting these folks from innovating. Until that key is unlocked, we will live in an Application in TV environment instead of Application over TV world.

I will be posting some hello world applications on the Samsung Platform for folks interested in development or wanting to share some notes.


William Reichardt said...

This is why I am hopeful that the IOS based Apple TV will support apps soon. IPhones and IPads as remotes is where I think TV input is going. The same thing will happen with Android. I already control my first gen Apple TV more often with my phone than I ever do with its static, physical remote.

The static remote is just not good enough for television based applications in the same way that the telephone keyboard is not very easy to text with.
Future remotes should be able to re-configure them selves on a per application basis to suit the apps needs. If the user can't walk up and touch the TV then they will need an appealing, reconfigurable UI that they can touch to compensate for this (plus, you are far less likely to loose your phone than you are the TV remote).

Steven Friedman said...

Good article!

Comcast, Verizon, Cablevision - what are you folks thinking? Hmmm, considering that Cablevision just removed FOX 5 from my TV and 3 million other viewers I can tell you that their NOT thinking about how to improve the user experience (3rd time this
year that they pulled a major network off the air). I still have Hulu and now planning to switch to Dish Network.

Looks like GoogleTV will allow for better TV interaction with Internet based apps and developer APIs will be available soon.

The following device (air based mouse) seems interesting