Tech: Smart TV or idiot box?

Buying a television is no longer about screen size or resolution, and manufacturers must strive to make their TVs as 'smart' as tablets and other devices

You might have been given a television for Christmas. Mind you, given how retailers are training people to wait for the January sales before buying, I'm surprised anyone gets anything for Christmas any more, apart from a small brown envelope containing a note saying: 'IOU one present, to be bought in the sales, when it's 30% cheaper.'

Buying a television is no longer just about screen size and resolution. Step over either the physical or digital doorstep of an electronics retailer, and you're thrust into the Battle for the Living Room, involving consoles that want to be computers, computers that want to be televisions, small black boxes that want to be large silver boxes, and large silver boxes that don't really know what they are any more.

We bought a TV last year in, yes, another sale. It's a Samsung 3D Smart TV, and we spent the next few months discovering what it actually did. As a television, it's a marvel, so much so that I'm still trying to get my head around watching HD films; it makes them look like theatre rather than movies. The 3D aspect remains mostly a waste of time, of course (more on that another day). So if there's a problem with 'Smart TV', it certainly isn't the TV.

It's the Smart bit. Yes, it's smarter than other TVs, but it's dumber than just about every other device I own. First of all, it's slow. When consumers are used to an immediate response to gestures on a tablet, the two- to three-second lag it takes to do anything on the TV, such as access the Smart Hub or use the apps, is unforgivable.

Ease of use

A lot of the apps are poorly thought through, too. 'Let's just take popular things from the web, and make them into TV apps' appears to have been the thinking. If you're on Twitter, there's a fair chance you're surrounded by devices you can read tweets on. Why you'd want to bring up a Twitter app on the TV is beyond me.

As for tweeting using the remote, it's akin to entering a high score in a ZX Spectrum with a joystick; one letter at a time, navigating around an on-screen keyboard. It's still early days, though, and no doubt we'll hear about some interesting developments from Samsung at this week's CES show.

What I'd love is for a service such as If This Then That to play in this space by creating easy-to-use ways to hook up all of the data flowing through the television into other services that I use.

Whatever TV manufacturers do, they'd better do it fast, or risk becoming the creators of commoditised dumb screens that consumers' other devices use at will.

John V Willshire is the founder of Smithery, an innovation works for marketing and product development. Follow him on Twitter @willsh or at


Three more pieces on the TVs of the future

Mat Honan's provocative piece on Wired Gadget Lab entitled 'Why you shouldn't buy a TV this year. Again':

Gizmodo article about the 'Intel Media Project' reminds us there are many other players lining up a crack at the TV for the future:

If This Then That (IFTTT), which allows users to create tailored alerts from across the web, is one of the services I use most. I wrote a wee overview a while ago:

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