The future of your TV: from gogglebox to home hub?

George Proudfoot
By George Proudfoot under Insights 08 September 2015

Despite some ‘smart’ attempts, the TV (along with its various accoutrements of set-top boxes, consoles and controllers), feels increasingly like an object of the past. Especially when you compare it to the supercomputers each of us carry everywhere, every day, in our pockets.

However, with the new Android TV, and the imminent upgrade of Apple TV, we can expect some renewed momentum in this area. Increased attention, and an improved user experience are a given. What we are most excited about, however, is the opportunity to extend the reach of apps beyond our smartphones and into our homes - and one powerful way we can do this is by harnessing the TV, and its central position in our home life.

Start with the TV’s natural habitat, and what is going on around it

Much of the early marketing material for smart TV services has remained content-centric and within the realm of the ‘dumb glass’ tasks that TV has been handling successfully for decades. Enjoying entertaining or informative content together is likely to remain one of television’s core strengths: it is an important social hub in the vast majority of homes - the place where we gather to relax. But the gogglebox has more to offer than the 20th century view of a TV as a mere content delivery device. We think it’s better to start at the level of the home itself.

What is a TV? Well, on one simple, pragmatic level, televisions are large, ubiquitous objects that stay permanently fixed within our living rooms and increasingly, in our bedrooms or even our kitchens.

So rather than think ‘what content would people like?’, at TAB we first asked ourselves what exactly people are trying to achieve throughout the day inside their home - and inside the rooms where their TVs sit. The next logical question is then how an app on such a large screen, with some speakers, can actively help them achieve what they need to do, enhancing or improving their experience overall.

TV could, for example, help you get dressed in the morning, making recommendations based on the weather, what’s in your calendar and what’s in your wardrobe.

It might help you track all of your household bills, connecting to your smart meters to give you projections and help you lower your spending.

It might become the best place to reimagine how you could redecorate, holding a plan for the whole house, and helping you work out what furniture could go where, and how it could look.

Your TV might also subtly control the mood of a room, helping you slowly wake up in the morning or drift off to sleep. It might even reflect and augment the experience of a particular passage of a book you’re reading, or help set the tone for the next time friends join you for dinner.

Take a quick look at the promo video from Sony - where their Bravia range 'meets' Android TV:

 The next step

As new technology arrives that connects our TVs to the personal information we entrust to our smartphones and the apps within them, they could soon have a far more diverse and personal role within our lives.

Apple’s ambitions for HomeKit, and Android TV’s connections to Google-owned Nest suggest one of the first new jobs for the TV could be to yoke everything in a connected home together.

Currently, today’s unwieldy TV controller is ill-suited for tweaking the thermostat. However, the proliferation of more natural interactions, like voice control and gestures via an enhanced remote, could make complex commands far more user friendly.

With your other apps and services able to participate and interact, tomorrow’s TV might be something akin to Amazon’s Echo/Alexa concept - with the added benefit of a huge HD screen to display things on.

Awaiting liftoff

There are still some unknowns about these improved television platforms. Not least is how popular they will become: without people to develop for, after all, why bother? Google and Apple’s marketing machines will undoubtedly churn up interest, though. With that, we would expect some of the cynicism that typically surrounds ‘smart TV’ to be overturned.

The fact that Apple in particular seem to be giving renewed prominence to Apple TV after years of treating it as a ‘hobby’, plus significant content support, suggests we will see some growth in interest and the install base.

Ultimately, it is worth remembering what initially attracted people to the smartphone is just a small portion of its purpose today. The TV might be a familiar facet of everyday life, but its potential has far from peaked.

If these improved TV platforms from Android and Apple can grow in popularity, then ideas and app experimentation will flow freely - and the result could fundamentally change what we turn to our TVs for.