Musings on CES Part 1: Smart TVs

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Note: Since CES is going on I’ve decided to do a few post on the things we hear coming out of the first gadget trade show of the year. These are going to be shorter posts as I just want to get out some thoughts on the trends I see coming out.

The Appliance Problem

TV manufacturers have a problem; TV’s are appliances not gadgets. What’s the difference? Well an appliance is utilitarian, it gets a job done and it does it for years. A good appliance integrates with your life and fades into the background. A great appliance while it sticks in your mind you only look to buy them again when it finally wears down 6 or 9 years down the line. A bad appliance sticks in your mind and because you had to replace it in 2 years you never buy them again. I’m talking about things like dishwashers, coffee makers, and ovens. Gadgets on the other hand are quirky things that work great for a while but after a year or two because there are newer gadgets you think about buying all over again even though the gadget you have still works. Not everyone actually buys the new gadget but we all think about it. Cell phones are obvious gadgets, as are digital cameras. Computers used to be gadgets, but they are slowly turning into appliances, which is why Dell, and HP are freaking out by the way. TV manufacturers don’t want to be appliance makers they want to be gadget makers because in business growth is king, and it is hard to keep growing when people don’t buy every year.

The Problem That Need Not Be Fixed

To try to change this every year at CES TV manufacturers throw out a bunch of wacky displays with new features most of which hardly anyone wants, and can rarely use. For several years 3D was the big push, it was in every high end TV. This year it’s 4K displays. Both of these technologies while interesting have little value to the average consumer mostly because these are entirely new mediums that content creators still have limited experience with and as a result haven’t exploited to their true potential. What has even less value however is the trend towards smart TVs. Smart TV’s try to do away with the need for your streaming boxes, like your roku, or apple tv, or boxee box.  The problem is most people don’t have one of these devices, and the ones that do would never think of replacing them with the awful integrated solution from a TV manufacturer.

The Only Smart TV I Want

Much like Android phone manufacturers, TV manufacturers have to realize their strength in the market comes from their hardware. There is only one company in the world that is truly successful at mating brilliant hardware with brilliant software and that’s Micro- sorry I can’t even type it as a joke. No apple is the only company to do both well, everyone else needs to realize this. This doesn’t mean they should just give up, because eventually one of them may figure it out. But they need to take a step back and focus on two problems that need solving more. The first is to understand that the living room tv will always have things competing to connect to it and there has to be an easier way then the mess of wires hidden behind the screen. Second if they want to gadgetize TV’s they need to start small, The TV remote is by far the dumbest device in the house relying on some of the oldest wireless tech known to man. The first TV maker to offer a Bluetooth or Wi-Fi enabled remote system will be the one that grabs my attention.

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