“I’ve finally cracked it!” Steven P. Jobs, co-founder of Apple, told his biographer, Walter Isaacson.
This topic seems to come up time and time again in the “future of TV” discussions, and was revived today over at AllThingsD: “Though it’s currently only embedded in the new iPhone 4S, Siri could eventually change the face of the TV industry.” I’ve seen a few other stabs at what “cracking it” could possibly refer to, but none seem quite right.
First, regarding voice-controlled TVs. Is this part of the future? Absolutely, unquestionably, undeniably. Siri hacking is already a hobby, and the idea of “TV, channel 702 please” or “TV, Watch The Office” or “TV, Record New Episodes of Arrested Development” all sound great. But how much of an improvement is this really?
I’d call it a minor enhancement – specifically in context to all the action happening in the second screen. If you can pick up your smart phone or iPad and perform roughly the same query in one of dozens of apps, then “talking” this command doesn’t really sound like a HUGELY big deal. It sounds incremental. And “cracking it” doesn’t seem like it’s about incremental. As I’ve written about previously, I don’t think it’s about physical gestures either, and as I’ll write about more in the future, it’s unlikely “apps” nor about some “new” 10-foot user interface (those are terrible, and are dead, thankfully).
What if the interview wasn’t about some futurey thing we’ll see one day? What if it’s not some mystical innovation that we can’t possibly fathom? See, I talk to virtually everybody in the future of TV industry, and not a single person seems to be able to imagine what this could be. That’s a whole lot of smart, industry-relevant, savvy people to be so in the dark.
So I’m going to take a giant leap backwards on the statement “I cracked it” and instead of looking at what might come, I’m looking at what’s already there. See, from my eyes, the single biggest improvement to the TV experience I’ve ever seen happened last year. I think “I Cracked It”exists, and it’s called AirPlay.
AirPlay takes a fundamental mindshift from thinking about whats happening ON the screen, where you have to use a remote (or gesture or voice or whatever) to control some awkward, ill-performing, frustrating, fundamentally LOUSY user interface. AirPlay shifts the interface to your favorite location, the device you hold, and carry with you all the time. AirPlay enables you to have the most organic, natural, helpful user experience you can, then just shift that experience to the device you want, easily and flawlessly. It’s an awesome experience.
For the record, I don’t mean this to be a gush about Apple TV / AirPlay – merely the experience the two together provide, one I anticipate will be replicated by others, and soon. The future of TV interfaces will be controlled by your second screen, and you’ll have one simple way to get it to the screen of your choosing. Today that’s done by AirPlay, but by the end of 2012 you’ll see this type of offering from a variety of manufacturers and app providers.
The first “moment of change” for TV user interfaces happened in the late 1990s by TiVo. The next one happened in 2010, by Steve Jobs & Apple. And yes, he cracked it.