What will it take for the Web to work on TV?

Part I: Better Bookmark and URL Entry

Smart TV
Image courtesy iStockPhoto.com
There are numerous speculative articles out about where television is heading, particularly its tenuous but growing relationship with social media. This post is taking a different approach. What will TV itself have to do, from a user and browsing experience to succeed? This is post one of two. Note: I am basing this article entirely on my 16+ years of experience as an Information Architect, Digital Strategist and Experience Planner for three large, well-known firms.

Importing of desktop and mobile bookmarks:

Sounds like a mundane thing to start with but getting bookmarks right may be the killer feature for a television OEM. Bookmarks have always been one of the most critical features of Web browsers. They define our tastes, our histories (pun intended) and our memories to some extent. They also account for most of our online behavior. We go to the same sites often and typing them every time is tedious.

Currently, typing in URLs on a television is a painful process like texting was in the pre-smartphone era. Possibly worse, because getting a long URL right with a remote control requires patience, determination and at least a fifth of premium-grade bourbon. Some companies have included voice-recognition and hand gestures to solve the issue, but with limited (or no) success. Here’s an example from Generated Content [Emphasis mine]:

“I own a Samsung Smart TV, and rarely use the browser. The main problem is the control method. It takes longer to type in a URL than it does to go to the other room and find my laptop. It has voice and hand gesture support, but I can’t get either to work. Whoever can solve the input dilemma has a good crack at making a browser that people actually use to surf the web.” —David Storey

His is not an isolated comment. Here’s another review All Things D:

“The Samsung Smart TV worked well for some functions, like watching standard cable TV, conducting Skype conversations with the camera and mics, and watching streaming television and movies via services such as Netflix, Hulu Plus and MLB.TV. […] But I found the new Smart Interaction — voice, gesture and facial recognition — unreliable and awkward. Many of the key apps, including Facebook, Twitter and the Web browser, seemed crude and hard to use without a keyboard, which Samsung sells for about $100.” —Walt Mossberg

I’m no fan of Voice Recognition. (Yet)

I tested it on experimental vehicles some years back. It was laughable and tasks took longer with VR than to simply use the existing knobs (Ex., you can turn down a radio faster than you can (clearly) say “Turn down the radio”). Plus there are still unresolved problems with VR. There are too many regional accents. People get colds or bronchitis. Some people have speech disabilities. And lets not forget background noise. I love my 95+ year-old home but when the heat kicks on, it sounds like a Harrier Jump Jet is trying to land in my living room.

Gestural control: It’s not for everything

Before you think that someday we’ll be using Minority Report interfaces, know that keeping the arms up like that for extended periods of time causes soreness, fatigue and leads to something Tom Cruise suffered from during the film called Gorilla Arms. Besides the fatigue aspect there is the matter of appropriateness. Not all commands make sense as gestures, with extended typing being the most obvious. Gaming, Tai Chi, aerobics, Yoga? Sure. Writing a white paper? Forget it.

So voice and gesture controls may have a bit to go before we can apply them to URLs.
Solutions? Here’s three:

  1. Importation of bookmarks via cloud services from the user’s laptop, mobile or tablet.
  2. Use the tablet or smartphone as the input device. Selling us yet one more keyboard is not ideal for most of us. For those who don’t own, want or need other computing devices, a TV keyboard is probably desirable. For the rest of us, it will simply become a trap for Doritos crumbs. Microsoft’s SmartGlass and Apple’s Remote app may be good starts in this direction.
  3. Adding bookmarking buttons and smart autofill features to remotes.

In Part II, we will discuss which manufacturers are on the right track and what to expect this year.