Technology | Media | Telecommunications

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Waiting for Superior Smart TV User Interface Design

According to the latest market study by Informa Telecoms & Media, 31 percent of households worldwide will own at least one Smart TV in five years time, with household penetration much higher in North America (63 percent) and Western Europe (64 percent).

They now forecast that over 220 million smart TV sets will be sold worldwide in 2017, that's up from the 54 million that have been sold in 2012.

However, while smart TV connection rates are rising, they will continue to lag the connection rates of video game consoles and media streaming devices -- such as Apple TV and the Roku streaming player.

With their long lifecycles, Informa believes that TVs are likely not the best device to be the hub of the digital home. Instead, smartphones, tablets, set-top boxes, media streamers and games consoles, will be the key devices driving the digital home experience.

Smartphones in particular, with their short life-cycles and rapidly increasing processor power, will continue to define what Smart really means to consumers.

"Informa estimates that in 2017 more than half of the 800 million Smart TV sets will only be used as dumb screens," comments Andrew Ladbrook, senior analyst at Informa Telecoms & Media.

Moreover, while any smart TV bought in 2011 or 2012 can be used for streaming online video services for a few years, they lack the processing power and the necessary hardware to perform those smart TV functions that will be standard in 2015.

Simply put, Informa says that any smart TV purchased in 2012 will be effectively obsolete by 2015.

Consumer electronics manufacturer's limited support for their existing smart TV products will also hinder the device. Popular online services -- such as apps for HBO Go, Skype, Onlive, BBC Sport -- are typically launched first on the very latest smart TV models, which means that users who previously bought a device are being excluded.

A case in point, I'm still waiting for the HBO Go app to work on my 51 inch Plasma 3D-enabled Samsung Smart TV that was purchased earlier in 2012 (I'll offer more details in my upcoming review).

The fragmentation of platforms and standards continues to plague the smart TV market. Apps cannot be easily released across multiple devices, since each smart TV platform requires customized development.

This situation benefits the current market leaders -- such as Samsung and LG -- who can attract app development from top services to their proprietary platform first, due to their dominant market positions.

And, while Informa believes that Google TV or Android will likely become the default open smart TV operating system (OS) platform over time, that eventuality is still some years away.

"If TVs are going to be truly smart, they must do more than offer a wide variety of online video services," Ladbrook argues.

Advanced TV design must add functionality including voice control, motion control, enhanced advertising, simplified user interfaces and two-way communications with other smart devices -- the so-called second-screen devices.

Enabling other connected devices to send video to the TV is a priority. Besides, manufacturers should focus less on adding more content and more on improving how users can interact with that content. The user interface is the place were innovation will truly define superior design.