The next-generation TV wars are about to begin

11 Nov 2011

Sony is understood to be working on a future TV technology that will reinvent the television as we know it. Considering Apple is hard at work on a similar project, television is about to get a whole lot more interesting.

The TVs of the future are in development. Steve Jobs’ “one more thing”, the future TV concept he cracked shortly before he died, is about to be joined by a Sony creation.

“I’d like to create an integrated television set that is completely easy to use. It would be seamlessly synched with all of your devices and with iCloud. It will have the simplest user interface you could imagine. I finally cracked it,” Jobs was quoted as saying in Walter Issacson’s biography Steve Jobs.

It emerged this week that Sony is also working on a new type of TV set that will help reinvent the genre. God knows the TV, with all its wonderful attributes, namely a big screen and dynamic content, represents the one last bastion of old media that remains effectively unaltered by the internet cloud.

Sony CEO Howard Stringer revealed in The Wall Street Journal that a serious amount of R&D is going into “a different kind of TV set”.

TV has become a commodity business and this is what is hurting Sony a lot, particularly in terms of sales of LCD TVs.

Cue Apple, which has a history of turning commodity businesses on their heads. The best example of this is the smartphone business. Smartphones weren’t exactly new when Apple came along in 2007 with the iPhone. Apple not only made smartphones sexy again, Apple made them usable.

Many commentators believe that if Apple does indeed create a new TV product, its voice-based artificial intelligence technology Siri will have a role to play. Imagine telling your TV to search for what sports programmes are currently on and what sports programmes will be on at 7 o’clock Saturday evening.

The key here is usability. Steve Jobs expressed dissatisfaction with remote controls. He has a point.

I think other factors could play a role in the future evolution of TVs. Firstly, I’m still surprised TVs on the market don’t come with built-in camera technology you would see on the humblest smartphone or netbook. The living room should or could be a natural place for Skype calls, for example, rather than being hunched over a notebook computer.

The connected TV is already a reality but there is a lot more that could be done in terms of integrating TVs with Wi-Fi to enable inter-device communication. At CES in Las Vegas earlier this year, Panasonic showed me a clever application that enabled the user to move a video file from the tablet in your hand straight onto the big screen by swishing it with your finger in the direction of the TV. Amazing!

I think it could go further. Motion technologies like the Microsoft Kinect, as well as voice technologies like Siri, could have a fantastic role to play, especially when you mash it all up with social media.

Here’s an example: imagine watching a political debate on TV and (as politicians are wont to do) something sparks your anger – you could shout at the TV and your angry comment could be Tweeted or included in your News Stream on Facebook.

Or you simply could give a thumbs-up in the direction of the TV and your gesture triggers a ‘Like’ on Facebook or, as you could currently do with video files on the Xbox 360 with Kinect, just wave your hand to change channels or turn up and down the volume.

This is just my imagination running riot, but the last unexplored bastion of mass media does offer some amazing opportunities. We ain’t seen nothing yet!

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years