Platform Communications Views

Banished Down the Back of the Sofa Forever? Not yet…

When I’m browsing through TV channels looking at what’s on, I must admit that I do sometimes settle for a quiz show from the late 1980s / early 90s. Maybe it’s for the fond nostalgia of it all, or maybe it’s for a laugh at the fashion, but one thing that does always make me smile is the prizes, and how often a TV set “with remote control” is the star prize. The chorus of “Oooooooh” from the audience is endearing, but in reality it’s eye-opening that 20 years ago, this was seen as a true luxury, yet nowadays viewers fully expect to be in total control of their TV set and the multitude of channels available to them. In an increasingly connected world, with more content available from more sources, this will be even more important.

It was therefore interesting to follow the recent debate and discussion regarding Apple’s (albeit speculated at the time of writing) plans to deploy Siri, its artificial intelligence software, as the control mechanism for any future TV development. Nick Bilton, (@nickbilton) in his blog for The New York Times, ‘What’s Really Next for Apple in Television’, argues that it’s “not a matter of if…it’s a matter of when” Apple enables you to talk to your TV, while Microsoft has seemingly stolen a march by announcing Xbox TV services will be live by the end of the year, using voice commands via Kinect to select content. “It’s about time” claims this promotional video from the company.

Whether it’s using voice commands or not, it is certainly about time that the way in which TV viewers interact with, browse and select their content is re-evaluated. Personally, I can’t imagine using voice commands to control the TV, as I believe that you actually lose the most important element here – control. While I don’t think outside or ambient noise will be a problem – the technology is too sophisticated for that – there is the problem of who exactly the TV listens to. We’ve all had the debate at home as to who has the remote control in their possession for the next hour, and allowances have to be made (we usually ‘agree’ in my house that I’ll have it). But if the TV just does what it’s told, living rooms up and down the country could see the TV flicking between Match of the Day and X Factor every 5 seconds. Where’s the control there?

I’m also dubious about browsing through what’s on. While search and recommendation features are getting much more accurate and relevant, I’ve certainly been guilty of scrolling through every available channel before just to see what’s available. If I sat at home and said “scroll” or “next page” 50 times, I think that might even get even more annoying for those around me.

I don’t want to be too dismissive right now though – it would be foolish to before I’ve seen and tried it for myself. But it is really interesting to see the remote control back as the centre of attention. ruwido, a Platform client, has been researching consumer behaviour and developing highly innovative remote control devices for 40 years, and is now using tactile feedback in its devices. You can find out more about their solutions here.

Who knows, maybe in another 20 years we’ll look back fondly at quiz shows giving away TVs with voice control (“Oooooooooh”) and remember the time that wasn’t seen as the norm, but navigation devices and methods are, right now, central to an interesting debate that has been long overdue.

Now, where did I put that remote…?

Ian Westover