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Companion Devices: the future of Smart TV?


Companion devices: the future of Smart TV?
 
Even a year ago, the big question in the Smart TV market was connectivity – how to persuade users to use their interactive services. With empirical evidence suggesting that consumers are waking up to the content that can be accessed through their Smart TV’s and coming online, the question now becomes how do we take Smart TV to the mainstream?
 
The latest stats from Informa suggest there will be more than 1.8bn connected TV devices in homes worldwide by 2016, with some analysts predicting that over 80% of consumers will be watching connected TV by 2015. What’s going to drive that connection is what many are calling the ‘companion experience’ – where viewers can use a smartphone or a tablet to interact with and as a remote control for the TV.
 
Many people are already using smartphones and tablets while watching TV - according to the latest Nielsen figures, 70% of tablet owners and 68% of smartphone owners. So what’s necessary is making them work together, the handheld device as a companion to (and controller of) the TV app.
 
One of the challenges for a Smart TV is that it can prove challenging to interact in any detail using a TV remote control. In terms of search and data input, anyone with an interactive TV knows how clumsy the process can be. Compared to the simplicity and ease of interaction with smartphones and tablets, viewers can easily be put off.
 
It is much easier to use a smartphone or tablet to enter words, search for content, or post updates on Facebook and Twitter. But if you want to view and share pictures and video the Smart TV is a far better platform than a phone. The BBC is developing this trend, and has said it plans to deploy a companion app for each of its TV shows, with one of the first being Antiques Roadshow. Viewers will be able to play along with ‘guess the value’, comparing scores with others and with the ability to go beyond broadcast to find out more about the antiques featured in the programme, with exclusive content and information drawn from across BBC Online and trusted sources from the wider web.
 
Of course, where the BBC goes, the rest of the market is likely to follow. To date that’s been hard because the convergence environment has been difficult to address. But now Samsung have changed the game with their 2012 model Smart TV’s, which enable the integration of Smart TV apps with mobile and tablet apps on Smart TV.
 
The new models provide an environment for true convergence, turning the handheld device, smartphone or tablet, into a companion device for the Smart TV. In a market where ease of use combined with exciting content saw mobile app downloads increase from 9 billion in 2010 to a projected 36 billion in 2012[1], the potential for Smart TV seems astronomical.
 
Samsung enables consumers to connect up to four mobile devices (smartphone or tablet) through a wireless network. While the system needs a mobile or smartphone app, as well as a mobile convergence app, once connected those devices can control the Smart TV, enter data, search and so on. As the number of apps increase, so does the complexity of the market. TV App Agency solves this challenge with technology that can create a number of apps for any brand in the time it would normally take to create one.
 
The TV App Engine uses a single source code to create apps across multiple platforms, cutting development and maintenance time by a factor of five. That means savings of up to 80% on both time and budget developing apps for all the major platforms. With the Engine easily generating cross platform smart TV apps it’s a step further towards true convergence. TV App Agency has already developed companion apps for the Samsung Smart TV, for La Liga, Rightmove and Absolute Radio –the first mobile convergence app available in the UK. They show how these environments can really work together and enhance the viewing experience.
 
In a world with 4 billion TV watchers, a billion more than the number of web and mobile users combined, the future of media is connected. But the TV, tablet and smartphone aren’t fully connected yet. True convergence of media is going to require the companion experience and that means an increase in technological complexity in order to make devices work together. The TV App Engine can manage the fragmentation of platforms and devices. Consumers don’t really care how the technology works – they simply want their systems to interact in a useable fashion. And Samsung has taken the first step towards making that truly possible.
 
[1]  ABI Research, Mobile Application Storefronts Research Service. http://www.abiresearch.com/press/smartphone-users-worldwide-will-download-37-apps-o