What We Mean When We Say, “The Future of TV is Apps”

Even before Apple said they believe the future of TV is apps, many of us in the industry had been stating the same thing. It seemed relatively natural, given we live in an app-focused world. At a high level, this is an observation about where the vast majority of our experience with computers comes through. But what does it mean, “the future of TV is through apps”? That is what will begin to be fleshed out in 2016.

If we buy into this idea, we are acknowledging the future of TV is not just sitting in front of a large piece of glass and using a guide and DVR to watch video. We are accepting that the watching of video is part of this future experience but it is not the only experience. We are also accepting that this future is not exclusive to only one screen as so much of the core TV offering is today. If the future of TV is apps, then TV as we know it is going to change dramatically.

Perhaps my favorite part of this observation is how the future of TV will not be defined by those who define it today. I’m not going to guess what that is and there is a good chance the TV experience may differ greatly from person to person. However, by combining an actual computer and the TV, a more diverse set of experiences are available. Connecting computers to the TV screen is exactly what Apple and many other companies want to do. This single initiative is what will usher in the future of TV.

The hardware is just the start. Bringing more powerful graphics and processing performance to bear will open the door for more immersive and visual experiences. But, as with so many other computing paradigms, we need the software community to embrace the new platform. Meaning, the future of TV will be defined by software developers. This includes those who are involved in traditional TV today such as the content networks. They will write software and create new models for us to watch what we want, discover new shows, and interact more deeply with the TV we love. But there is also brand new ground to be broken. TV has never before been a platform for developers to take advantage of and this adds a new dimension to TV.

To acknowledge that software developers play, perhaps, the most critical role in defining the next era of TV, we are acknowledging the future of TV has not actually been developed yet. So how do we get there? It all depends on the input.

As I have been thinking about this the past few years, I had never realized how critical the remote (or any input mechanism, including voice) was to this whole equation. All computers have a way in which we communicate to them via a user interface. If that mechanism is flawed, then the platform is limited. PCs went through many iterations before the input mechanisms and interfaces were perfect. Smartphones similarly took many iterations to land where we are today. A platform like a smartwatch is still in its early stages but an entirely different input paradigm is emerging because its screen is so small. New software UI, voice, and other things are emerging as primary interaction methods. The TV, being a larger screen, offers more options and fleshing out the UI methods will be key to driving the future of TV.

Luckily, it seems voice is the most common interface method emerging by those investing in smart TV experiences. Voice intuitively feels like a candidate for the primary interaction method to the future of TV. Anecdotally, I’ve found the stigma around talking to your devices lessens quite a bit in the comfort of your own home. I’ve personally been surprised how comfortable my wife and kids are in talking to the Amazon Echo and how quickly the behavior become the norm. As voice technology gets better and isn’t restricted by a limited set of commands, we will see this behavior become not just a primary interaction method with computers and the TV but the preferred one.

This is the foundation the next era of TV will be built on. Hardware with significant performance and visual capabilities (which could easily include AR/VR in the future), new ways of input like voice, innovations in remote and controller experiences (like the Wii), and innovations in software largely unexplored yet by software developers.

When Microsoft rolled out the Xbox 360 they had a saying — “TV will change more in the next five years than in the past 50.” Here we are nearly 10 years later yet not much has changed. However, with the foundation being laid for the future of TV, I think that statement may actually finally be true.

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Ben Bajarin

Ben Bajarin is a Principal Analyst and the head of primary research at Creative Strategies, Inc - An industry analysis, market intelligence and research firm located in Silicon Valley. His primary focus is consumer technology and market trend research and he is responsible for studying over 30 countries. Full Bio

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