Monday, December 06, 2010

The future of the TV remote

I have been thinking about the connected home a lot in the last few weeks (hint: I finally have time to think, what a novel concept ;-) One area of my focus is the couch and what's in front of it: the TV.

I just bought a wide-screen LG TV, which I am not allowed to unwrap until Christmas, so it is sitting in my living room (these self-presents are such a bad idea...). Like you, I am moving to a bigger and bigger screen.

Contrast that with the move to smaller screens. Your mobile phone and your tablet. None are good enough to really watch TV or movies. They are second class citizens in the video world. You do it, because you do not have anything better. You do not have a couch when waiting for a bus, or on a plane. You do not have a 50" TV. If you do, if you are around the house, you are going to sit on the couch and watch the TV.

Yes, I also believe you do not like to sit at your desk at home in front of a computer, even to watch a stupid YouTube video. You would rather do it laying on the couch under a blanket, with some popcorn on the side (ok, I am going too American on this one, let's make it pizza for international purposes).

Now, the TV is getting connected. This is the Christmas it is happening. It can be your actual TV with wi-fi, but most likely for now a device that connects to the Internet and puts stuff on your screen. Such as Apple TV, or Roku, or just your Wii-Playstation-Xbox being able to get content from the outside world and show it on the big screen.

It is happening now. People are streaming more Netflix movies (me included) than ever before. Not sure if you heard about this stat, but a recent study showed that Netflix represents more than 20% of downstream Internet traffic during peak times in the U.S. That is a lot ;-)

What is lacking in this big scenario? The remote.

Why? Your actual remote sucks. Actually, the remotes. If you look at my couch, I have a thing to hold the remotes, with four pouches: TV, DVD-Player, TiVo and now a Wii remote (it made it into the fourth pouch once I started streaming Netflix from the Wii. Before, it was stored somewhere else. It kicked out the VCR remote for good).

Remotes have been forever an afterthought, which has always amazed me, being a usability guy. Ata, the Funambol Product Manager and another user fanatic, uses this example to define a good vs. bad user interface: what is the most important button on a remote? The PAUSE button, which you need to click in an emergency when your wife calls you, the phone rings or someone is knocking at the door. Can you find it in the TiVo remote below?
Good job, that was not hard. TiVo gets it right (there is a reason why I love their product ;-)

Now what about here?

Yep, I thought so ;-)

Now, let's make it a bit more difficult. Let's try to imagine a connected TV. Let's go with what Google is doing. Here is the remote for the Google TV (I am serious, they are actually selling this thing). Where is the Pause button?

Ok, this is ugly... If we have a connected device and we do not know how to control it, how is it going to work?

Well, I think it is going to still be ugly for a while, but I have a feeling.

There is a device that is laying on my couch now. I use it to browse the web. I use it to interact with people while watching TV. I use it to multi-task while watching boring games.

It is my tablet. The iPad or the Galaxy Tablet, same thing. It is touch based, it can change its look depending on the goal I have, it can suggest me things to watch (think here, a very cool concept), it can even stream video directly to my TV (that is Airplay on Apple TV, a new and very interesting idea).

The tablet is the natural TV remote. And a lot more.