The future of Smart TVs

Last week I bought a new TV for my parents. It turns out, salesmen give you weird looks when you tell them that a Smart TV is not as powerful as a simple laptop connected through HDMI.

Nonetheless, the TV I got has integrated Wi-Fi and yes, is a Smart TV. All in all, I kept telling my mom (the techie of the family) that by having the Surface next to the TV, they wouldn’t use the “smart” part.

I was right and wrong at the same time. See, the fact that I was able to connect the TV to the same Wi-Fi network the Surface uses, allowed me to stream movies, photos and music without using a single cable.

That’s when I decided to give a try to the rest of the “smart” functionalities… and I got disappointed. The integrated browser was very limited and slow, specially when the website had complex elements to render. The available apps were pretty basic and even with outdated content. Disappointing.

But then I realized: the problem is this basic operating system; what if the TV had Android? Chrome would be a much better web browser and the Google Play Store would give me access to thousands of great apps.

Yes, that product is Google TV. But why did it fail when it launched three years ago? To be honest, the announcement video sounds pretty awesome:

 

Let’s forget for a second the possibility of cable companies lobbying against Google TV in 2010; what was the problem then? People had (and still do) much simpler or cheaper solutions: an old Xbox 360 does most of the things people would like to do on a TV, and HDMI cables cost less than $5.

Earlier this month, a report said that Google might launch a new Nexus TV in 2014 (does anyone remember the Nexus Q by the way?), and almost half a year ago, Google announced Chromecast for $35… two different approaches to the same issue: bring the online and TV worlds together.

 

Here is the big picture: companies like Samsung and LG (among others) keep developing their own TV operating systems. Google tries to push cheap solutions based on Chrome and Android. Microsoft and Sony keep trying to maintain the idea that external boxes like the Xbox One or the Play Station 4 are more complete solutions. And in the meantime, consumers get bombed with options.

What does the future look like? I believe the market of Smart TVs will get to the point where manufacturers “borrow” the OS from one of the big software giants. Right now, TV manufacturers can afford using their own OS, given the little attention that these products get as compared to smartphones or tablets. Eventually Google will release a successful product that integrates Android and its Google Play Store (or perhaps it’s Apple with the iTV), making Smart TVs popular for real and starting a new trend where manufacturers will want to stay relevant.

Will we ever see TVs as if they were computers with big screens? When will manufacturers start substituting their basic OSs with Android? The war for the living room might not be new, but 2014 promises to be a very interesting year.

Image via Samsung

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