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What is the future of Smart TV?

As Smart TVs and digital set top boxes evolve, we wonder what the future of Smart TV looks like and if our phones and tablets should play a center roll in this future.
August 5, 2014
Android TV hands on demo

Smart TV boxes are a great way to get online content onto your television screen. They package together most of the services you want like Netflix and YouTube as well as some third party apps for podcasts, music, and even cable TV channels.

Google and Apple were the mainstream pioneers of this medium, releasing the Apple TV in 2007 and the Google TV in 2010. The idea was born out of a new desire to “cut the cord” from cable and satellite TV providers and it also recognized early on that internet content was becoming an equal to more traditional entertainment.

But for any early adopters of these platforms, the limitations of each design kept either from really taking off. For anyone who wasn’t completely dedicated to iTunes for video, the Apple TV wasn’t useful and Google TV software was at the mercy of hardware companies like Sony and Logitech who were criticized for sluggish performance and strange remote controls.

Smart TV is everywhere

But that was the past. Today, boxes like the Roku 3 offer more third party apps, peppy performance, and simplified remotes. Not only that, prices are reasonable and installation is easy. In just this year, two new options have been announced with Amazon’s Fire TV and Google’s rebranded Android TV making clear strides toward streamlining the interface and adding voice search.

However, since its initial inception the idea of smart TV has become very common place. Most new televisions have some sort of software built into them, Blu Ray players have app stores and video game consoles all have smart TV functionality. Chances are if you bought any TV related device in the past 4 years, it can function as a smart TV too. So why buy a dedicated smart TV?

With every iteration, smart TV is moving away from the idea of having a PC on our TV, and closer to having our smartphones and tablets on our TV

The answer is not always obvious. On some levels it boils down to the experience. Having a dedicated device that lives and dies by content means that the best smart TV experiences can be had on something like Android TV.  Also the ability to easily connect it to any TV, regardless of manufacturer, makes it much more versatile. But I would argue that with every iteration, smart TV is moving away from the idea of having a PC on our TV and closer to having our smartphones and tablets on our TV.

The Chromecast sea change

This is the reason Chromecast was, in its own simple way, a groundbreaking device for the concept of a truly smart TV. Ironically, for a smart TV, Chromecast is dumb. It really only acts as a way to project content from our phones to our TV’s. There is no traditional home screen, just apps on our phones that either take advantage of it or don’t.

Chromecast has so much potential that we may soon be able to ask, why use a smart TV box at all?

For developers this means they don’t have to dedicate resources to writing new apps for other devices, they merely integrate the Chromecast functionality into their existing mobile software. For us this means that we can continue to use our phone and its tried and true interface to control and find content to put on the television.

Chromecast has so much potential that we may soon be able to ask, why use a smart TV box at all? Our phones are already better, fully fleshed out ecosystems that we trust and know how to use. Sure, Android TV looks great and adds another great choice to the smart TV market and it will even have Chromecast essentially built in through the Google Cast feature. But as a way to search and stream content, Chromecast alone is already a really good option.

This is probably why Fire TV and Android TV both spent part of their presentations touting gaming content. As a casual, budget gaming console, smart TV’s can make a lot of sense. With a dual stick controller, it can even cross the divide into 3D gaming that phones and tablets are not ideal for with only a touchscreen. Not only that, it seems clear that there is a gap in the gaming industry for the taking. Consoles like the OUYA were able to drum up a lot of interest and excitement only to fail on things like hardware and software support. With a nicer experiences, Smart TV’s could easily gain a lot of ground in that respect.

Imagine there are no boxes

As it stands, the smart TV market is still wide open. The technology is cheap enough and companies like Google, Apple, Roku, and Amazon are all willing to find the right formula for consumers. Would we be better served by TV manufacturers including Google Cast and AirPlay as standard features on all new TV’s?  Perhaps. This would actually be more similar to Google’s recent efforts in Android Wear, Android Auto, and the connected home where our smartphones are the center of large ecosystems.

Would we be better served by TV manufacturers including Google Cast as a standard feature on all new TVs?

It’s consumer friendly because it adds functionality to current devices and keeps entry costs low. It also brings us closer to the future where our technological footprint follows us around the home and beyond instead of being relegated to our pockets, desktops, and entertainment systems. Dedicated devices like the Android TV are still awesome and there are plenty of reasons to buy one today, but it’s not hard to imagine a future where we won’t need them anymore.