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September 4, 2015

TV 101: An Open Letter To Apple, Google and Roku (From the Future!)

by Jay Black, posted Oct 20th 2010 2:00PM
This is a terminator. It's also probably what the future will look like if what I'm hearing on Glenn Beck every night is true.Dear Apple, Roku, Google, Sony and all the other companies who are gearing up to connect our TVs to the internet:

Greetings from the future! As you will one-day know, ever since a well-meaning historian tried to warn Archduke Ferdinand of his (SPOILER ALERT!) 1914 assassination and accidentally caused 'Two and a Half Men' to happen, time-traveling has been illegal here in the future. Luckily for you, the guard at the time machine is addicted to future-booze (a lot like your own booze, except a million times more powerful) and fell asleep, allowing me to send this letter back in time.

And it's an important letter. See, 2010 was the year that you all decided people wanted streaming media from the internet on their TVs, but none of you actually did it right. It took decades for it to be sorted out!

So I'm writing this letter to speed things up a bit. There are three major things you're doing wrong and I have the solutions ...

1. Nobody wants another box underneath their TV

The space underneath most TVs is a pretty cluttered place. There's the cable box, the DVD player, the Xbox 360 and a Wii no one ever uses.

Apple TV, the Roku, Boxee and Logitech's Revue are all asking for some of that real estate. Sure nerds and geek-a-zoids are A-OK with hundreds of wires snaking up the wall, but most people live with actual women. And women don't dig extra wires and boxes.

So why bother? Go the Netflix route -- build a great content-delivery service that's device-agnostic. Put your stuff on the boxes that are already there, like the Xbox or the Playstation.

Or better yet, design a system that can go directly into the TVs themselves. And by the way, I mean that -- you design the system, don't leave it up to the TV manufacturers. Google TV is going directly into some Sony Bravias, but it's integrated with the same Sony sensibility that brought us atrac, the PSPGo, and the rootkit fiasco.

A TV integrated with Apple or Google, which delivers a truly seamless (and stylish!) streaming experience, will win a lot more acceptance than another tangled box of wires.

2. Understand that people don't want to find their entertainment

I'm going to use the word "social" in a moment, but since I am well-acquainted with the Facebook Wars of 2014, I know that in your time, "social" was a buzzword that unemployed journalists used far-too-frequently in an attempt to re-brand themselves as "social media" gurus (link super funny but NSFW). Please believe me -- I'm just using it in the good old-fashioned sense of "people you're friends with."

TV is a social experience. We love talking about TV as much as we love watching it (maybe more). Further, while it's fun to find a show, it's much more fun to spread the word about something great we just saw -- or have that word spread to us.

Google TV and Apple TV are built on the supposition that we already know what we want and need a better way to find it. This isn't the case. What you need to do is build us a way for our friends and family to tell us about a great show.

I'm not talking about an annoying Facebook or Twitter update: "Jay is watching ... [insert show here]." Imagine a system that lets us share our rentals or purchases with as many friends as we want. For instance, 'The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret' is a really funny show. Instead of just telling all my friends this, I should be able to press a button, send it to them and let them see for themselves.

The technology you're building is perfectly capable of that and it would really make your products worth something to consumers. I know, I know, you're going to have to deal with TV networks who don't want to "give their show away for free," but you need to explain to them that the robot-horse has left the robot-barn. Being able to share media easily and legally will be the killer app for these devices, and it'll save the TV industry from following in the footsteps of the near-dead music industry (more on how this could be done here).

3. Get rid of the keyboards

You know what wives hate more than wires? Keyboards in the living room. You need to get rid of them. Right. Now.

"But the Internet-on-TV experience needs a keyboard," you say? "Streaming content into the living room is too complicated to be handled any other way," you say? Poppycock, I say! (By the way, in the future, poppycock is the worst curse we have, so you know I'm really passionate about this, poppycockers!)

Apple purchased a great company a few months ago called Siri, which makes a product that uses natural voice commands to let you get the most out of your iPhone. When you want to get movie tickets, you don't type in keywords Google-style, you just say something like, "I want to get tickets to see 'Eat, Pray, Love', then I want to buy a shotgun and end my life", and Siri gives you all the links you need.

This is the perfect solution for dealing with the added complexities of streaming Internet content without forcing us to use remotes that look like this. You still change channels and control volume with your old remote, but when you're ready to interact with your software, you do it with your voice. The keyboard problem is solved and it's solved with technology that already exists!

The company that is able to build a TV that integrates a streaming service and that lets me find new content through my social circle and that lets me control it all with natural language commands is going to be the one that wins the streaming-Internet-on-your-TV race.

I wish I could tell you which company figures it out, but that would be violating the time-travel rules -- can't reveal too much of the future, blah blah blah. I will give you one more hint about the future, though: be kind to Justin Bieber. I know he's easy to make fun of, but he's very sensitive and has the money to buy a lot of weapons-grade plutonium if he ever felt the need to get back at the snarky bloggers who mock him.

Just sayin'.

(Jay Black is a writer and comedian who really hopes you enjoyed this column. For more information about Jay or to check out one of his live shows, visit www.jayblack.tv)

[Follow @jayblackcomedy on Twitter]

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I'm there with you for two of those, but I could just as soon do without the voice command. Maybe for those with quiet homes, but with three loud kids running around the house I could see that going horribly wrong.

(For example, my three-year-old son is absolutely fascinated with...certain parts of his own anatomy right now. I could just see me talking to my TV and saying "I want to watch a movie with a lot of -" intending to say "action" or "comedy" or "girls with large hoo-has", only to have him yell out very proudly that he has a penis. The horrors that would show up on my screen boggle the mind!)

October 23 2010 at 11:28 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Jay - have you seen Boxee's remote? It's a much, much, much, much, much, much better solution than Sony's. Traditional remote on one side, Blackberry-style thumb keyboard on the bottom. It's actually the top reason I'm considering buying a Boxee Box.


October 20 2010 at 4:26 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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