What if the TV was intelligent?

In recent weeks all the focus has been on the life and legacy of Steve Jobs. Rightfully so. With the release of his biography a lot of interesting questions, quotes and comments have come forth.  Some are the typical stuff of Hollywood gossip rags, but a lot has to do with the clarity of  his visions  for the future.  One area I have found particularly interesting is the area of television.  We have seen the Apple TV offering but it falls far short of a satisfying experience.  Augmenting a TV rather than replacing the television.   I am sure he would be the first to say the initial Apple foray in television was less  than stellar. But then this is Steve Jobs and his visions were always far grander.  His comment regarding Apples intent around the television in the forth coming biography highlights this point “I’d like to create an integrated television set that is completely easy to use,” Jobs told his biographer, Walter Isaacson. “It would be seamlessly synched with all of your devices and with iCloud. It will have the simplest user interface you could imagine. I finally cracked it.” What if he did?  How many of the people on this planet own a TV and what if the existing TV experience was significantly enhanced?  The television has been augmented with devices but the core TV has changed little (OK…I do love Flat screen…that was cool).  If Steve is correct, yet again, we could be looking at a new era of television viewing experience.

To be clear this area has been traveled many times before.  When I first started in the industry and as I wrote earlier this was a big area of opportunity before the internet.  The problem was the world was just not ready at the time.  With all signals to the television now being sent in digital format that is changing.  We now have services being streamed across the internet like Netflix and Hulu.  Our access to content provides us with hundreds of channels to choose from.  However for the most part our experience has been complicated as we have a choice between satellite and cable services, a Tivo box, blue-ray player, HD content, etc,,  Going into anyone’s house and trying to turn on a television can be an adventure.  Try finding the correct channel changer.  Takes time.  Perhaps the time is right to rethink the whole television experience.

If you think about your television it is just a giant monitor like a PC.  But to date it has not seen any significant enhancements despite all the new gadgets we can attach to it.  As we add new devices and functionality we seem to be adding new complexity.  A fried of mine bought a new LCD a few years back with a Tivo.  His comment to me was “It would be helpful to have better guidance in the setup as to what you need”.   After three trips back to the retail outlet he had a functioning entertainment system.  What happened to I plug the TV in and attach my cable and off I go?  Don’t get me wrong despite these complexities people love their entertainment.  In the end they put up with it.  However if someone came up with a better user experience that took television to a whole new level  people would gravitate towards that offering.

To date most of the efforts have been on the set-top box and providing new digital services.  At Microsoft this was tried several times.  The cable providers have done this.  Though some of the demo’s I saw were pretty cool, for the most part it appeared to be one more controller.  One more thing to hook up and one more thing for the cable provider to charge me for.  The solution for some was a universal controller.  Go to “x” site and download the latest software and let it walk you through setup. Having spent enough time in geek land we can all vomit in unison now (Steve Jobs, RIP, I am sure will vomit with us).  People get tired of going through set up’s asking a bunch of questions that they usually do not understand.  God knows my wife asks me all the time.  Go ahead install those DLL’s.  What do they do?  I have no f^%^ing clue!  All I know is if you say no, the app will not install, it will abort.  Why they hell ask someone in the first place?  Who are these programmers and do they speak a recognizable human language!?!?  Ok, my rant is over, sorry I digressed.  But do I want this on my TV?

In my earlier Steve Jobs quote he said, “it will have the simplest user interface you could imagine…”.  What is the UI?  it’s the TV.  In the age of digital your television screen is a big user interface.  With enough real state to make the old Win95 screen look meek and pathetic.  For those who have followed my blog you may remember I managed some of that Windows 95 real state (Prodigy ISP).  However unlike Windows95 I doubt the current Apple leadership would sell AppleTV real estate.  I wouldn’t be surprised is Steve Jobs made sure to forbid it before he passed away. There is the ability to display a lot of useful information on these large flat screen televisions, why not use it?  Just keep it simple stupid.

If Apple has plans and made headway in changing the overall television experience the opportunity is huge.  As was stated Apple would tie all this together with both existing Apple services (iPad, iPhone etc..) and new Apple services (iCloud) .  Show your family vacation in the TV, while streaming from your iTunes music library.  Stream movies easily to the television.  If the user experience is simple to set up and easy to use people will gravitate to it.  If it has iPhone marketing behind it how much will a cable or satellite provider pay Apple for an exclusive agreement?  How many new subscribers did AT&T attract because of the iPhone?  If it’s a game changing experience the value can quickly get onto billions of dollars.  People don’t buy televisions as often as Smartphones.  If it is a success the idea of competitors playing catch up is not going to be an appealing job opportunity as people will be unwilling to switch,.  We have talked in the industry about digital convergence for years and it’s still early but the television transformation will be here soon.  I, for one, cannot wait.

Good Night and Good Luck

Hans Henrik Hoffmann November 8, 2011