Is SmartTV An Oxymoron?
Just so you don't misunderstand me, let me start with the disclaimer that I love the idea of Internet-connected TVs. If the future is to have most things connected to the Internet, such as your toaster, refrigerator and washing machine, the TV is not a bad place to start.
Earlier this year, ConnectedTVs were rechristened SmartTVs, probably as a way to draw some of the reflected light from the growing popularity of smartphones. For the first time in Q4, 2010, smartphone shipments exceeded PC shipments globally, and by 2012 smartphone shipments are predicted to surpass feature phone shipments in the U.S., according to InStat. This is a long journey for smartphones that were until very recently simply the purview of enterprise and business users.
The term "smart" in the context of devices or gadgets alludes to advanced and rich in features or something that is elegant to use in functionality. The inflexion point in smartphone adoption happened with the iPhone. It immediately redefined the category of smartphones from a business work horse to the coolest, most fun gadget you could have with an online connection (and a mobile one to boot). The rest, as we all know, is history. Who could then resist the lucre of being in the smartphone business? The game is on with Android following suit, Microsoft waking from its slumber, RIM bearing the major brunt of this tectonic shift, Nokia losing its mantle as the leading smartphone platform and eventually discarding Symbian, and Palm getting acquired by HP.
History is being written, folks, and the smartphone will forever change how we do things. Location based services being used for commercial applications, such as local promotions; finding friends and building spontaneous social networks; checking into venues; and all sorts of other seemingly useful and useless things are nevertheless transformational in what we do and how we do it. And this is just the start. Expect a lot more from the smartphone when we're out shopping, looking for things to do, using virtual reality to enhance our experiences of places we're visiting, using QR codes to get more information instantly and interact with advertising and such on the go, and the list goes on. Truly, calling these devices smart is appropriate nomenclature.
Phones are first and foremost a communications and productivity tool. Despite all the fun stuff that is available for smartphones -- gaming and video included -- one cannot deny that the tremendous utility of the platform, applications, and location awareness is an important driver of productivity and connectedness.
The TV, on the other hand, has mainly been an entertainment device. As the programming has evolved, so has the role of TV in our lives. We don't hear the term anymore, but for the longest time the lowly television was called the idiot box. Everyone can relate to Bruce Springsteen's lament of '57 channels and nothing on', at least until the arrival of DVRs. Even then, by the time the fall season ends, the TiVo library starts getting sparse.
The TV has been credited as a contributor to the general dumbing down of how we spend our time. Whatever smart things could be done on a TV set in the past never took off. I am referring to things such as WebTV and Microsoft Media Center PCs. I am sure some of the rationale for that was consumer choice -- although those products coming from Microsoft may have had some bearing on it too, if you know what I mean. The smartest things connected to our TVs today are game consoles, and therein lies the dilemma of calling the TVs smart as well. GoogleTV still has a pulse, but just about, and AppleTV - well, that was dumbed down as well.
So forgive me if the use of the term smartTV is going to take a little more getting used to compared to the smartphone. ConnectedTVs was an appropriate name - they are after all now connected to the thing that we all want to be connected to - namely the Internet. However, making the qualitative distinction that the TV is going to do smart things for us, or actually help us do smart things is yet to be seen. I am definitely in the camp that wants smart utility merged with the TV, but (despite being a marketer) I need it to be more than a marketing term before I can subscribe to it.