Do We Need Smart TVs and Set-Top Boxes?
There's been more news of the smart TVs ahead of CES but I've never really seen the point of them and have been dubious about their uptake. A recent survey found that only 15% of smart TV owners actually use them for anything other than watching TV. Mat Honan argues the reason is the terrible interfaces on the devices themselves, and while I agree with his comments I'm not sure that's the whole story.
Having used Airplay a few times in the lead up to Christmas, I think I know what the industry should be doing: enabling wireless streaming support. I think Google have already figured this out, which is why they've sold the set-top box side of Motorola that they acquired last year and appear to be working on an open standard to compete against Apple's Airplay. By streaming support, I mean support for as many wireless sharing protocols as possible.
Samsung already has a system for sharing (AllShare, based on Miracast, but proprietary), so too does HTC (Media Link) and LG have announced NFC and Miracast functionality for wireless streaming in their latest range, due to be launched at CES later this year. So manufacturers seem to know they need it, but a series of different protocols is as useless as not having anything, we need a standard (or at least a limited set, I'm thinking probably Airplay and one other).
Miracast is an existing 'open' standard that is supported in Android as of release 4.2 (on certain devices), but it requires Wi-Fi Direct, which limits its usability as it can't just run on an existing wifi/ethernet network. Which is presumably why Google are working on their own protocol. DLNA is another option, but doesn't seem to have gained traction for whatever reason (lack of a catchy name perhaps?).
Instead of building apps and complex controls into the TV, enabling wireless streaming/sharing means customers can use any of a range of devices (smartphones, PCs, laptops and, more than likely, tablets) to control the various apps and media and then simply throw it up onto the big screen for all to see.
Keeping the interfaces on the local device makes it much easier for people to control, the TV manufacturers don't really even need to get involved with software development and it allows for portability too (so when you go over to someone's house you can show them that funny YouTube clip, or photos of your kids or whatever off your phone or whatever you have with you). It also takes away the need for the TVs to be connected to the internet, thereby increasing security, plus they don't have to worry about adding services or keeping apps up-to-date.
So, TV manufacturers of the world, stop worrying about your platform and just get on with adding Airplay, DLNA and whatever other streaming standards you can so we can seamlessly show media on our TVs.