Early-adopter trial reviews of Google TV enabled hardware have started to emerge: From TechCrunch’s scathing review of Sony’s hilarious RC to Rick Klau’s more thoughtful piece. There can be little doubt that integrating the web with TV devices means change for consumers and manufacturers as they both get to grips with the full potential of the technology.
Disclaimer: I’m currently working on a different IPTV offering, but it’s definitely making me think hard about how consumers can best be served by the little box next to their TV.
So, let’s look at some patterns of behaviour enabled by Google TV...
Surfing As A Group Activity
Sitting the family in front of the TV to catch up on the latest lolcats, augment storytelling, plan activities or solve family arguments brings a level of interactivity that TV alone cannot provide but also the bigger screen means and end to crowding around a laptop.
There is still one similarity to huddling around a laptop that hasn’t been addressed - one person has control. If the person with the remote (it’s probably the Dad) doesn’t keep his audience entertained or switches pages too quickly, he will lose their attention and it will be his fault, not the fault of a corporate broadcaster.
Contrast the scenario above to that which happens in many households (including mine): adults watching the TV simultaneously using a laptop/iPad/iPhone to access the web and switch the focus of their attention during the boring bits of broadcast content.
The Remote Control Must Evolve
The New York Times has bemoaned the increased complexity of using the full feature-set of Google TV. That is understandable and it comes down to the TV manufacturers’ blinkered thinking with regard to how a remote control should look and act. Sony’s Playstation controller with a keyboard deserves to be called an
usability nightmare and attaching a USB keyboard is a step backwards.
Instead, allowing control over TCP/IP (as well as infra-red) and leveraging set-top-box APIs will mean that consumers can use their smartphone and iPod/iPad as a remote. Control from outside the home - such as recording a favourite program whilst stuck in traffic - can also be made possible with open APIs like Google TV.
Virtual keyboards available on touchscreen devices, like the iPod, would alleviate a lot of the usability problems highlighted by the NYT and make textual search a much more natural part of TV viewing.
Apple is obviously aware of the potential of the smart remote and the iOS 4.2 update to Airplay paves the way for greater symbiosis between the internet in your hand and on the screen.
A further impact of using third-party smart devices as remotes means that there will no longer be just one remote in
control. Widespread smartphone ownership could mean that families will no longer fight over the RC, but for control of the display.
Personalisation Pain Point
Web 2.0 properties have been adding value through personalisation (and later social connection) for a long while now, but this will be much harder when displaying content to family groups.
Content customisation becomes about the makeup of the viewing group instead of previous input. Dad might love action movies but it’s not appropriate to recommend Rambo when kindergarteners are being babysat by the TV. Similarly, teenagers will be unimpressed by Mum’s favourite 80s romantic comedies.
There are likely to be many more sets of preferences than family members - one each plus family viewing, kids viewing, sports nuts etc. Fast, easy switching between these customised views should be a priority for user experience.
An issue related to personalisation is that of parental controls - many set-top-boxes use passcodes to block access at certain times or to specific channels.
The Homepage On Your TV
Homepage is probably the wrong word, but Internet TV needs a jumping off point for surfing, just as the EPG makes a good starting point for your evening’s TV viewing.
It is my belief that a widgetised homepage is more appropriate to IPTV than Google’s minimalist web search box. Large, colourful icons that can be recognised from a distance can lead to fullscreen applications, customised for TV use. Here is Google’s TV Spotlight gallery, which provides a similar idea, but uses brands and logos instead of icons, but the navigation is interesting.
So now I come to ask for your help, dear reader, what would you like to see on the homepage of your future TV?
Here are some (fairly obvious) ideas:
- TV guide - duh!
- Informational apps - weather, stock prices etc
- Games - with the success of Angry Birds this is a no-brainer but the user interface will have to be very different
- Social apps - Twitter, Facebook etc have to be there but, again, user interfaces will need to be great
- Home messaging - not quite email but a means of leaving notes for other household members
- Media library - UPnP devices on your network should be able to communicate seamlessly with your TV
What else would your family like from the TV of the future? Let me know in a comment, please!