In their quest to make their TVs more appealing, TV manufacturers have confused ‘smart’ for ‘useful’. CES 2012 has done little to dissuade my view that TV makers are still grasping for a smart answer.
At CES 2012 LG boasted that its Smart TV ecosystem (everything has an ecosystem these days) boasted 1,200 apps. It never bothered to explain why.
I’ll tell you why: it sounds impressive, but it’s not. In the quest for ‘smartness’ manufacturers have forgotten that we mainly want TVs to entertain us. That means video (in all its forms) and games (good ones).
I don’t need to check the weather, I don’t need to do my grocery shopping, I don’t need to read the news, update Facebook or Twitter – I don’t need these things because I already own umpteen devices that do them already, much better.
It’s easy to understand why TV manufactures have gone down this road – the appification (I just made that word up) of mobile phones has been a powerful example of utility in action. But TVs aren’t phones.
Apps work on phones because smartphones are the Swiss Army Knife of tech. They’re with you all day and every small thing they do makes them a little bit more useful. We don’t need Swiss Army knives tethered to the wall socket in our living rooms.
Microsoft is showing the way
For a contrast to this ‘more is more’ approach, one need only look at Microsoft and its Xbox. The Xbox 360 has done more to further the future of TV in the last three or four months than TV manufacturers have done in two years.
In its latest update Microsoft added much-needed depth to its video offering, with 4oD, Five FWD, LoveFilm, Netflix (as of this week) joining the already excellent Sky Player and Microsoft’s own (rather expensive) Zune video on-demand service. When BBC iPlayer joins that cast in the next couple of months, it’ll have among the most complete packages around.
Moreover, it’s all wrapped up in an interface that’s clean, clear and fast – three things not associated with Smart TVs thus far. Sony, too, has a strong offering on its PS3 console, albeit without the Sky Player option.
How Microsoft and Sony position their next generation consoles will be fascinating – I fully expect them to be far more affordable than in the past, driving people to buy them as the ‘one stop shop’ for living room entertainment.
Google to the rescue?
As is the case with mobiles and tablets, Google has been said to be the potential saviour for TV companies. However, LG announced a TV with both Google TV and its own Smart TV system at CES 2012 – a recipe for confusion if ever there was one.
Confidence in Google in this ‘smart’ project is shaky at best. Google TV version 1.0, which launched more than a year ago, was an unmitigated disaster and didn’t even make it outside the US. It’s hard to escape the feeling that Google TV is one distraction too many for a company that has its fingers in lots of pies.
Manufacturers may hit upon the right formula eventually, but by that point the horse will probably have bolted, only to be remembered as this simple pub quiz question:
How many apps did LG Smart TVs have in 2012? Answer: no one cares.