UPDATE 6 JAN: Samsung have announced an interactive drawing game ‘We Draw’ as winners, with on-demand workouts IPTV service ‘Gymbox’ second and space exploration app ‘Armchair Astronaut’ in third – more details on LostRemote:
ORIGINAL POST 4 JAN: Samsung have just announced the finalists of their $500,000 TV App development challenge, and unfortunately the lineup embodies all that’s wrong with Samsung’s approach to internet connected TV.
It should be said a few of the apps in themselves are actually neat ideas and nicely executed- like ‘Armchair Astronaut’ which allows users to explore the solar system on their television set with a really cool layer of real time information about the planets, and ‘TheGymBox’ which is a simple idea of workout videos via IPTV- but even these good ideas will probably fail to capture many eyeballs, and that’s down to Samsung…
Samsung’s approach to connected television is flawed for a number of reasons…
1. A bad U.I.: separating ‘apps’ and ‘television’
When navigating their devices there are separate zones for television (the EPG) and the app environment. As an early market where the audience have no history of using apps on their television set I suspect most people will only play with apps for 15 minutes when they unpack the TV for the first time and then never revisit, and why should they revisit a bunch of shallow novelty apps? Yahoo Connected TV is a better template where users navigate an array of apps (or widgets) via a broadcast overlay interface, but again it still only offers shallow services. A better template which is already a success are ‘red button’ services in the UK tied in to linear broadcast- these prompt people to access interactive services that are relevant to the broadcast content they are consuming, which brings me on to…
2. A lack of convergence with broadcast
Samsung seem to think they don’t need to engage with broadcasters to make their platform a success. Truth is we’re watching television broadcast content on average 4 hours a day and that’s a big potential launchpad for deeper interactive applications. A couple of the Samsung finalists make attempts to tie in with broadcast, like ‘Numote’, a Foursquare-esque ‘check in’ app for television shows, and ‘Guroo TV’ which is an EPG based on social trending, however the scope and depth of these apps could be supercharged with the participation of broadcasters – where ‘checking in’ via Numote can actually reward you with much more than points or badges, or where broadcaster-provided metadata fuels another layer of recommendation within ‘Guroo TV’. Truth is the app developers will struggle to strike a deal with broadcasters to tie in with their shows, but a market leader like Samsung could do this, particularly in Europe where 1 in 4 TV devices sold is a Samsung.
But despite the hype are Samsung actually that interested in apps? I suspect not, particularly in Europe where it doesn’t allow any broadcast overlay interactive services. I think for Samsung apps are just a novelty to differentiate their devides from their rivals. Chances are it will eventually scrap its own proprietary television apps environment for whichever third party internet connected TV platform dominates further down the line, be that GoogleTV (in the US) or YouView (in the UK).
3. Is it a computer screen? Is it a mobile phone? Who knows?
As well as physically separating ‘apps’ and ‘television’, and lacking convergence with broadcast, Samsung totally misunderstands television viewing behaviour. For many people television is a social experience – so along comes another ‘Twitter on your TV’ app in the shape of ‘TV Twicker’ where your tweets pop up as you watch your favourite shows. Have Samsung not heard of smartphones as a well established and pretty effective device for this? And who really wants tweets on their television set – whether you’re viewing in group or on your own? I don’t mean to be unfair to the developer because I’m sure there is a small audience out there who might use it, but for Samsung to select this as a finalist shows a lack of understanding of television user behaviour, and a lack of imagination and ambition. Unfortunately it goes from bad to worse with a ‘social jukebox’ second screen app ‘WeTeli’ where people can add videos to a playlist queue in social situations (ok, that’s not too bad I admit), add comments and rate (yeah, I don’t think that’s likely), and wait for it… they can throw virtual tomatoes at the screen if they don’t like the video (ok, now that’s actually not even fun the first time you do it)… if this is Samsung’s idea of ‘social’ then I won’t be attending any of their parties anytime soon.
4. A bad deal for developers
I don’t mean to be down on the developers, they’re just trying to tick the boxes of Samsung’s restrictive competition, but if Samsung weren’t offering loads of cash and prizes would anyone bother? I suspect not. Samsung not only lack transparency on their commercial terms with developers around revenue shares but it also takes them a lifetime to approve apps – 3-4 months if you’re very lucky, often significantly longer. Samsung say this is for quality control, as I said before I think this is because Samsung aren’t really taking TV apps as seriously as they suggest.
So, what next for Samsung’s high-profile apps challenge? Well the winners of the US competition are announced at C.E.S. in Vegas this week, the European Challenges are taking submissions until mid Jan and then expect an announcement of the winners shortly after, and all these apps will appear on the Samsung Apps platform this half of 2011.
I think the majority of the developers of these apps have a done a good job within the restraints of the Samsung’s platform, but I’d say as soon as they get that cheque from Samsung they should spend it on getting their ideas on a better platform, and even more, where appropriate, find a way of convincing broadcasters to use their technology. Broadcasters are not only hungry for good ideas (certainly in the UK), but they actually have the means to deliver an audience. It’s that convergence of linear broadcast and web enabled applications that are the real killer opportunity in the next few years.