01 January 2012
Is Steve’s dream about to become reality?
I suspect I was not alone in being given every Steve Jobs book ever published for Christmas, including Walter Isaacson’s 600 page official biography. In it Steve Jobs told Isaacson of his dream of creating ‘an integrated television set’ saying: “It would be seamlessly synced with all your devices and with iCloud. It will have the simplest user interface you could imagine. I finally cracked it.”
Anyone following the International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) this week in Las Vegas will know that, despite most of the world’s largest electronic companies unveiling their latest sharpest smartest tvs, the shadow of the smartest of them all hung over the show, with everyone wondering when Apple will make its move into smart tv. Speculation over how dramatically Apple will re-write the rules, how beautiful the device will be, and how simple it will be to use has generated much more interesting debate than the latest thinking on organic light emitting diodes.
As Apple redefined the mobile phone market and created barriers to entry in tablets so high most early entrants have already given up the fight, so the incumbents in tv-land must be trembling. Who would want to be LG, Toshiba, Panasonic or Sony? Philips saw this coming and gave up the fight last year, licensing its brand in the tv market to TPV Technology of China. Luxury electronics players like Loewe and Bang & Olufsen must be also be greatly concerned. Meanwhile, Samsung must be thinking, ‘we’ve held on in smartphones, so we must have a chance in tv’ and let’s hope for their sake they are right.
The only other confident player must be Google, whose Android platform is a lifeline for the incumbent manufacturers. But Google’s strength is search (and creating value from advertising), while Apple’s is being the out-and-out master of user experience (and generating added value from delighting customers).
Opportunities for brand and website owners
The new world of connected smart tvs will enable apps and websites, like YouTube, to become tv-like. This opens a world of opportunities for all website owners and app providers, but threatens the tv-as-we-know-it model. From a user perspective, imagine having all your favourite content in the cloud and using any device – phone, laptop, desktop, tablet, tv – to access it. Controlled by your iPhone or by Siri, the voice control system launched in the iPhone 4S, Apple tv is likely to gravitate to the centre of this connected eco system.
For website owners, the advent of compelling interactive smart tv represents a huge opportunity to extend access to brand content, but it also introduces challenges in creating multi-format websites that ‘re-flow’ depending on the size of the interface. If brands get this right, a whole new set of experiences will become possible. Imagine finding a travel website that you’ve spotted on the way to work on your phone, and then showing the family the shortlisted resorts on the tv that evening. Imagine the FT broadcasting the 10 o’clock business news or editing the bits you are interested in on the BBC. Imagine watching the gig you couldn’t get to on YouTube tv or interacting with a live sports programme to find out more detail or stats on the players.
We are looking at a whole new world of possibilities for businesses and brands that never thought they could get in front of tv audiences and adding detail and links to those that already do. It’s a world where HD images and video will dominate, where embedded links will provide additional information on whatever you are watching. It’s a world where user-friendly search comes to the living room and where little brands can really compete with the big guys. Ultimately, it’s a world where those with compelling content will be king, or at least princes.
So will Apple crack it? My feeling is that they will, so I won’t be replacing my 32” Loewe until Apple’s 55” is unveiled sometime in the next year.
Nucleus Founder & CEO
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