The smart TV is dumb — really dumb

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photo credit

If you’re like me, you spend an inordinate amount of time in front of your TV. It’s becoming easier and easier to watch all the shows and movies you could ever want, and it seems like the media being green-lit and produced is of a consistently better quality than at any other point in history. Not to take away from great shows from the recent and distant past, but it seems like producers from all of these different streaming services and cable platforms are getting better at recognizing quality ideas and the talent required to bring them to the forefront. In fact, I’d say there’s never been a better time to be a fan of quality TV.

But for as much as the media itself has gotten better, the way we watch and interact with TV has stagnated pretty severely. We still have mindless browsing of channels, or if you’re a cord cutter, then browsing through various content on a number of different streaming services. Our remotes are still those infrared (IR) enabled “clickers” that you have to point at just the right spot to get your button presses read. We still need to be painfully aware of which device is plugged in to which input. Even the advent of Smart TVs has done little to change or revolutionize any of these problems, however small those problems may seem.

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Which button is for which input is for which device?? (photo credit)

Right now I’ve got a Roku 4, an Xbox One, and a computer plugged into different ports in my nice 4K Smart TV at home. I use each one for various purposes, and in order to switch from one to another I have to pick up a crappy IR remote and navigate manually. I know that some TVs allow you to control them via an app on your phone (although those apps are rarely very nice to use), but even then, I need to be aware of which app I need to open to go to do some task. Then I need to pick up a different remote and navigate whatever device I’m on with that. Sure it’s a first world problem, but why do we continue to keep our expectations at that level?

I imagine a world where I don’t need to care about which remote I need to use or which input device is best for performing some action. Here at Josh.ai, we’re working towards an entertainment suite that doesn’t require you to know which remote does what. You don’t need to know how to navigate to Netflix or Hulu on some device. You don’t need to know if the movie you want to watch was just pulled off of Netflix and that it’s now only available through Amazon Prime. All you need to do is say “Watch Training Day” and your TV turns on, switches to the Roku, and starts playing.

Alas, there currently are roadblocks in the way of that vision. TVs are only now starting to become controllable by means other than your remote. In fact, most TVs still aren’t easily controlled outside of your remote. As well, most devices that plug into a TV live in their own little world rather than willingly opening up to the environment they’re plugged in to. It can be difficult or outright impossible to know, for instance, what is currently playing on various devices, which would allow for second screen interaction or to check to make sure the kids didn’t find a way to throw on rated R content while you’re away from home. Every piece lives in a silo, and that’s something that will need to change in the TV and media consumption industry if we ever want to evolve much further than our current watching habits.

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Chromecast vs. Apple TV vs. Roku 4 vs. Amazon Fire TV (photo credit)

I know it’s easy to think we don’t need to evolve, that what we have is good enough already. While that’s a very defensible position, I still posit that it can be better, and it’s hard to fully realize how much better it can be until you’ve experienced it for yourself.

There was a recent article on The Verge which featured Vizio wanting to take TV in a new direction. The short version of the article (but it’s a pretty good one and I’d recommend giving it a read) is that Vizio agrees that TVs are currently stuck in an archaic world of remote controls and we can do better than that. We can and should offer an entire ecosystem, rather than a screen as a portal to devices. We can do better than what we have now, and at Josh.ai we’re doing our best to bring that vision to life.

This post was written by Michael at Josh.ai. Previously, Michael was a software engineer at Microsoft before joining the Josh team where he works on interconnected device control. Michael plays hockey, loves Chipotle, rocks out to T-Swift, and has a love-hate relationship with Destiny Potato (the best band you’ve never heard of).

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