Years from now, children will look back at us in 2010 and wonder why we were browsing the web on small laptop screens when we had massive televisions and sound systems available in our living room. Perhaps those same children will wonder what it was like before “Smart TV”. Smart TV is a new service from Intel, Google and Sony that brings the web to our television sets, and if the rumors are true, is likely being announced in a few days at the Google I/O conference. What is this service about, and what does it mean for the future of television and the web?
To start, let’s look at what we expect to be announced about Smart TV in the next few days. The vision will likely be something like this:
Imagine starting up your television, watching your favorite show and simultaneously using a small sidebar displaying news feeds from your Facebook friends about their reactions to the show. You can easily browse the web, post status updates, download new applications and see television show popularity ratings and more. The best thing is that it’s all integrated into your existing television without any further technology required.
Implications of Smart TV
This is what pundits are expecting from the Smart TV vision. This has been a long time dream for television companies (Samsung has tried the web TV angle for years), but it seems that the time has come to finally fuse the great American pastime of television with the new socially active technologies of the web. If a service like this takes off, a whole new business ecosystem emerges. Interactive advertising will need to get an overhaul to provide advertisements that match the visual quality of television shows. Application developers and content producers will need to learn how their viewers are watching TV and learn to reach out in new and interesting ways (imagine chatting with a director as you watch his newest production). The service would also open up a host of new user experiences and business partnership opportunities.
Smart TV and Business
As far as business relationships are concerned, there aren’t any details about Google’s relationship with Sony, but the big question is whether this deal is a Sony-exclusive. If so, then application developers will not have as great an incentive to develop for the Smart TV platform, because it’s only one brand of television. That gives competitors the chance to develop their own application platform and sign with Samsung or Panasonic. That said, Apple has also made moves into the space, and they may promote their own Apple TV product again along with their superior application platform. Microsoft has the XBox as well, and they’ve integrated NetFlix to make the machine a great way to easily stream movies from the web. This would lead to a war of applications on television that will likely be confusing for the user, although power users will enjoy the variety. The business relationships are still unclear, so we’re waiting to see what to expect on this front.
On the technology side of things, Google is planning to bring the Android platform, including their full application platform, to Sony televisions by integrating them with Intel’s new ‘Canmore’ chip. By leveraging the software and application strength of Google against the hardware capabilities of Intel, I’m hoping to see an easy-to-use platform that allows developers to easily come up with new ways to enjoy television. The hardware all resides inside the TV, and that begs the question of whether it will be going head to head with existing set-top boxes. For instance, if Apple re-enters the game, the downside is that you’ll need a separate box from the television to use it. It’d be something like a television console. This would also put Apple in a battle versus Microsoft, and that would be a tough battle considering XBox’s great momentum and success with the XBox 360.
If, as I suspect, Google is planning to make relationships with all the television hardware manufacturers, then Google skips a step and enters into living rooms by default. That would be a powerful position for Google, a great opportunity for viewers and an absolutely massive step for the Android platform. It leaves Google out of direct competition (for a while) with Microsoft or Apple, and allows them to grow quickly. It also lets them throw the Google Chrome web browser into televisions, and that would quickly become the default browser for Smart TVs. Features like Google Chrome’s “bookmark synchronize” would become a surprisingly easy way to keep your bookmarks synced along all your devices: your Chrome on your home computer, your Android mobile device and your television. There are rumors that Sony will also be releasing Blu-Ray players that include Android as well, which is just another step in the direction of a Google-powered living room. We’ll keep you updated as things progress this week.