Battle for the Living Room: Apple TV shifting to app strategy?

The living room (lounge for UK readers) is one of the most interesting tech spaces right now, and it’s got nothing to do with 3-D TV. (Just for the record, I’ve been referring to this as the Battle for the Living Room for a while now, lest anyone think I’m just ripping off Mashable headlines.) The blurring of the lines between internet video and broadcast television and between computers and traditional televisions is bringing consumer electronics companies and computer companies into a new competitive space.

Nick Bilton at the New York Times’ Bits Blog looks at how Apple could be looking to re-invent its rather sleepy Apple TV line. One of the big changes is that a new Apple TV could be based on the iOS that powers Apple’s iPhone and iPad. Why is this important?

If Apple does use the iOS software, it would allow people to download applications like the Netflix app, which allows streaming movies and TV shows; ABC’s TV player; or Hulu’s latest video streaming application.

This space is getting very crowded. As both Mashable and Nick pointed out, Google and Sony are going to launch Google TV. It will be based on its Android operating system, and an Android marketplace for Google TV will launch in early 2011.

Alt media centre software maker Boxee has its own apps and has launched its own hardware, the first Boxee box is coming from D-Link. (It was supposed to be out in the second quarter of this year, but it has now been delayed until November.)

Here in the UK, the BBC has won approval to proceed with its own project to bring its iPlayer catch-up service to the living room with Project Canvas. What is Project Canvas? From a story on the BBC News website:

Project Canvas is a partnership between the BBC, ITV, BT, Five, Channel 4 and TalkTalk to develop a so-called Internet Protocol Television standard.

The technology will be built into a number of set-top boxes. However, Canvas is UK-only, and as Robert Andrews at paidContent points out, there is a pan-European standard that has beaten Canvas to market: HbbTV.

Of course, hyper-competitive also leaves the potential for consumer confusion, and this looks like it might make the VHS v Beta battle look like minor scrap. Right now, we’re in the gold rush period, with a mad dash by a lot of major players to dominate this space. It’s very early days, and a lot of the products are little more than announcements. What is very interesting is that we’ve got a lot of major companies coming from sectors that previously didn’t overlap that much apart from some of the major Japanese players. They will not back down without a fight. It will be very interesting to see what our living rooms look like in 2015.

Al Jazeera Unplugged: Robin Sloan of Twitter

Robin Sloan works for Twitter with their media partnerships. He started off with a few statistics.

  • Twitter has 105m users worldwide.
  • 30% of users are mobile.
  • Growing faster internationally than in the US.
  • 1bn SMS per day.
  • 60m tweets a day.

Robin said that inventors don’t always understand why their inventions work or how people use it. However, they do believe that there are some reasons why it does work.

We think that Twitter works because it’s an information network not a social network.

Many people are using it for ‘one-way’ relationships, such as following news organisations or TV shows. It is much like a traditional broadcast network.

They believe that Twitter works because there is “less friction”. They believe that this allows people to use Twitter in moments when they are waiting, interstitial time. What if news presented itself with no friction, without entering “news mode”. To read The New York Times or watch Al Jazeera, you have to enter this headspace, this focus, “news mode”. What happens if you could get information without entering “news mode”?

We just figured out websites, but he said: “Am I saying that news websites have too much information? Yes.” I think this is about presenting information in the flow of life without friction. This reminds me a lot like TV. In some ways, this becomes the new programme guide. They don’t look at the EPG; they look at Twitter.

Google just released Google TV this week. TV is still the world’s biggest medium. It has an audience of 4bn people. Google want to change the operating system of TV. Twitter and TV, these things really do go together.

How does this argument mean for news? How can you present information in context, in the interstitial moments in people’s lives. How can you make consuming news ridiculously simple? How can you present pure information, pure message? Real-time information happens when that friction approaches zero. This is the challenge. As a platform, as a medium, TV is behind in some ways. It’s ahead in many ways, TV needs no interface.

At Twitter, we still think that it’s way too complicated. There is too much friction.