Picking up on one of my themes from My Predictions for 2012, I (like many) are intrigued by the notional idea of what Apple’s iTV may look like. Thankfully, the press and blogging community have established that the real issue holding back Apple’s iTV (or any interactive television) is not technology but how a user relates to the content on the television, i.e. the human interface/experience.
As someone who has spent too much money over the last few years on a multiple of devices in an attempt to create an interactive television experience, I have to sadly admit failure. At one extreme I have hooked up a mini PC and attempted to use a keyboard and a touchpad. Maybe I am just getting old but trying to use a touchpad with a cursor on a screen 20 feet away is becoming more challenging (may be I should get my eyes tested more often).
My most recent acquisition is an Apple TV which has many great things going for it – particularly the ability of a three year child to use it on a Saturday morning to watch Bob the Builder as often as they like without any assistance. The simplicity of the interface and the remote is a joy – but it feels very limited in the same way the original iPhone was when it was first released – do you remember the iPhone before the Apps Store. I truly believe that the full potential of Apple TV will be realised when third party developers are allowed to create apps for this device (and am greatly encouraged by the recent hack that has been developed). I mean I can’t be the only person in the world who is massively frustrated by the inability to use the BBC iPlayer on Apple TV!!
Whilst I do not underestimate the innovation and creativity of developers to find novel ways to use the current Apple TV remote to interact with third party apps, we have to admit that it is somewhat limiting. But the solution to the problem is readily available – the iPad – the second screen experience. If we consider what lies at the heart of the problem – it is how to address the differences between a “lean back” experience of television and the “lean forward” experience of computers. Maybe there isn’t a single solution to the problem. Maybe it is a hybrid solution that combines the best of both worlds.
The current chatter on the blogs about the Steve Jobs moment – “I’ve cracked it” being the use of Siri to control Apple’s iTV. I believe that this might work in a closed ecosystem where Apple controls all over the various applications – however assuming an apps store will eventually appear I find this approach pretty restrictive.
I take the view that iTV requires a second screen – the iPhone and iTouch might be adequate but the iPad is perfect. The simplicity of the design allows the “blank canvas” to be whatever is needed. Sometimes it can be a keyboard, sometimes a giant touchpad, sometimes voice activated and sometimes an accelerometer. The iPad would be the ultimate “remote control”.
But obviously the iPad can be a second screen. At times, you may need to look at something in greater detail, so having the content at arms length is important – but equally sometimes it may be better suited for a bigger screen at a distance. What I am describing is something similar to the Minority Report – without holographic displays. Imagine being able to work with some content at your fingertips to be able to flick it away to another larger screen and/or pull it back to your fingertips.
This exists in its infancy on airplay where you can mirror your actions and screen both on the iPad and also Apple TV. What I am describing is a dual screen experience – but recognising the differences between the two screens – one lean forward, the other lean back.
So there you have it, the Apple iTV does exist today but it is not one but two devices – Apple TV and the iPad. Do I seriously think that this is what iTV will be? No. Apple have no track record of selling two products together to create a solution, that would not be elegant enough – but we can dream and I do hold out hope for an Apps Store for Apple TV very soon.