2012 has marked a year in which television hardware has begun catching up with other forms of entertainment with the heavy influx of “Smart TVs.” Having grown quite popular around the world, with a market penetration of over 40 percent for both China and Western Europe (according to NPD DisplaySearch), Smart TVs have surprisingly stalled in areas like North America at about 20 percent. With such numbers, many believe that Smart TVs aren’t something to be concerned with in the United States. That said, if the history of “smart” technology has anything to teach, it’s that this is very probable to change.
It might be daring to say that you are likely going to end up buying a Smart TV in the next year or two – absolutes usually are – but merely look at the phone in your pocket. Chances are it’s a smartphone. In the past, the iPhone has been referred to as “the invention we never knew we wanted,” and to show context, smartphones currently cover 54.9 percent of the total mobile market! The reason is a combination of simplicity and versatility. Simple touch and swipe controls make it intuitive to use for even the most technology-impaired and they build dramatically upon on our need to communicate with social networking, web access, various applications, and so on. Smartphones have become a part of our everyday life.
Next, take a look at video game technology from the past few years. Though Nintendo still tries to play catch up, Sony and Microsoft have shifted their perspective from developing home “gaming” consoles to developing home “entertainment” consoles. Consumers are wanting to do more with less, and in the case of, say, the highly popular Xbox Live, they can play games, access Facebook, watch movies via Netflix, stream music, and more. Furthermore, video game technology went through a huge boom of motion-based control systems with one of the most “impressive” being the Xbox Kinect. Though complete with voice control functions, the unfortunate truth was that motion and voice controls were relatively ill-received by much of the gaming community after the novelty of the Nintendo Wii wore off. It just wasn’t sophisticated enough to handle rapid, complex gaming functions. However, it did work quite well for simple menus and browsing.
This is where the Smart TV comes into play. Smart TV manufactures are looking to phase out external devices as much as possible to greater incentivize TV purchases. Currently, there are any number of offerings from different television brands too that are working down this road. LG for example, is focusing a bit on the gaming route with “Game World”. This is a portal for accessing and playing popular casual apps, such as Cut the Rope or Plants vs. Zombies, using the company’s “Magic Remote” (think WiiMote for TV). Of course, it hasn’t overlooked core games either with an integration to Gaikai for cloud gaming.
On the other side of the spectrum, Samsung is modeling the Xbox Kinect with its newest series of Smart TVs. Here, the focus is more on gesture and voice control to browse channels, its built in web-hub for applications and functions, and even to turn the TV on and off. Unfortunately, like most similar technologies nowadays, it’s a bit clumsy and doesn’t always detect what the user is trying to do. Even so, it’s a step in the right direction and does fall back on standard remotes and even a touch-based, remote control app for the iPhone.
That integration with a mobile device leads to another important note. According to recent studies from Google, a staggering 90 percent of consumers in the U.S. are viewing entertainment media across multiple devices, including their TV, tablets, smartphones, and PC or laptop. In fact, this is making up about 4.4 hours of media consumption per day. Chances are, you are guilty of this too with the most popular multi-screen tasks being Internet browsing and online shopping. When not simultaneous screen usage, it is dubbed “sequential usage” and follows the following pattern: Consumers see something on television, then start browsing for it on a smartphone or tablet, and then finish that task via their PC. 90 percent of consumers are doing this! That means that as Smart TV technology becomes stronger, the multiscreen usage will be centralized into a single screen.
For many, Smart TVs are still a bit on the expensive side of entertainment, but just like smartphones and game consoles, they will become more affordable. Additionally, quirks in the technology will improve and as these two elements converge, a rapid growth in Smart TV consumption seems only logical. Of course, it’s highly unlikely that Smart TVs will ever phase out some of its mobile and gaming counterparts, but all the same, if you find one in your living room within the next year or so, just remember, we told you so.