Smart TVs may be taking off, but they're still not smart enough

Smart TVs may be taking off, but they're still not smart enough

Summary: Informa is predicting healthy sales of Smart TV sets, but they're still not smart enough, as Apple, Google and Microsoft eye the prospects of a joined-up market for "three screens and a cloud"…


Apple, Google and Microsoft have all eyed the TV market, and some expect Apple to launch a TV set next year. However, the current Smart TV market doesn't look very smart, according to Informa Telecoms & Media’s latest Smart TV forecasts. It seems a large proportion of Smart TVs are used as dumb TVs, and they go out of date too quickly to act as "digital hubs".

Informa thinks 54 million Smart TV sets will be sold world-wide in 2012, growing to more than 220 million units per year in 2017. By then, most homes in North America (63 percent) and Western Europe (64 percent) will have one, so it sounds like a healthy market. However, Informa senior analyst Andrew Ladbrook estimates that more than half of the 800 million Smart TV sets in use in 2017 will not be connected to the internet, and therefore not smart at all. He adds:

"Moreover, while any 'smart' TV bought in 2011 or 2012 can be used for streaming online video services for a few years, they lack the processing power and the necessary hardware to perform those smart TV functions that will be standard in 2015. Simply put, any smart TV purchased in 2012 will be effectively obsolete by 2015."

Part of the problem is that TVs have long lifecycles compared to smartphones, tablets, set-top boxes, media streamers and games consoles. These smart devices are often cheaper and they are much more frequently replaced.


Samsung Smart TV
Samsung's smart TV already recognises gestures, and the company says it will offer hardware upgrades via Smart Evolution kits. Credit: Samsung


Informa also says the smart TV market is "plagued" by the "fragmentation of platforms and standards". This makes it difficult to add apps, and limits support beyond the leading suppliers, Samsung and LG. Informa "believes that Google TV or Android will come to be the default Smart TV OS for Smart TVs, [but] that is still some years away".

Since most Android apps are written for smartphone screens and look dreadful on 10-inch tablet screens, the prospect of using them on 50-inch TV screens is somewhat less than enticing. But we trust that will change….

google-tv_logo (200 x 184)

Google launched Google TV two years ago in conjunction with Sony and Logitech, but it flopped. However, the system is based on Google Android, Google Chrome, and the Google Play store, so the company is likely to persist even in the face of market indifference. In the long term, Smart TV is likely to provide the opportunity for Google to sell more of its search advertising, apps and content, and it’s the TV manufacturers who are carrying most of the financial risk.

The TV has also been part of Microsoft's strategy for well over a decade, and is the "big screen" in the slogan first popularised by former chief technical officer Ray Ozzie: "three screens and a cloud". In Microsoft's case, it's using the Xbox 360 games console as a television set-top box, and the next version of the Xbox is expected to shift the emphasis towards home entertainment. (Microsoft closed its 500-employee Ultimate TV division in 2002, and re-assigned its hardware developers to the Xbox project.)

Apple launched Apple TV in 2006, but it has failed to make much impact on the market. It's a media streaming device with limited functionality, and has to compete with more versatile systems from Roku, Boxee, Western Digital and other suppliers. However, there have been persistent rumours about Apple producing its own TV set, and Piper Jaffray analysts Gene Munster and Douglas J. Clinton have confidently predicted Apple TV sets in the 42-inch to 55-inch range, selling for $1,500 to $2,000, and Apple could once again redefine the market.

But as Adrian Kingsley-Hughes pointed out here: "It should be noted that Munster has been talking about an Apple TV for over four years, and he confidently predicted that a standalone Apple TV would be available in 2011."

Informa's Ladbrook says:

"If TVs are going to be truly smart they must do more than offer a wide variety of online video services. Instead they must add advanced functionality including voice control, motion control, advanced advertising, attractive user interfaces and two-way communications with other smart devices – so-called ‘second screens’ – allowing these devices both to send video to the TV and know what is being watched. Manufacturers should focus less on adding more content and more on improving how users can interact with that content."

If he's correct, Microsoft has a reasonable chance of competing. Its Kinect peripheral already allows motion control of the TV set, and its "three screens" strategy allows one screen to be used instead of another, or for multiple screens to work together. SmartGlass is an example.

There are obvious business benefits if people using small screens, whether smartphones or tablets, can switch seamlessly to using large-screen Smart TV sets, when available. And if Informa is correct, they will become common over the next five years.


Topics: Hardware, Apple, Google, Microsoft, Samsung

Jack Schofield

About Jack Schofield

Jack Schofield spent the 1970s editing photography magazines before becoming editor of an early UK computer magazine, Practical Computing. In 1983, he started writing a weekly computer column for the Guardian, and joined the staff to launch the newspaper's weekly computer supplement in 1985. This section launched the Guardian’s first website and, in 2001, its first real blog. When the printed section was dropped after 25 years and a couple of reincarnations, he felt it was a time for a change....

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  • Smart TVs are just to sell more TVs - all the action happens with tablets

    Smart TVs are clumsy, ugly beasts filled up with pointless free stuff (BBC iPlayer aside) or stuff you have to subscribe for (eg LoveFilm and a million other subscription services)

    I know they want to sell more TVs and give us a reason to buy another TV but realistically it will all be controlled by your tablet or wireless laptop device. If you can seamlessly stream content to the TV, like using a projector in a presentation, then why do you need to painfully move around the big TV with the clumsy remote, typing in your cleverly worded computer passwords on a clumsy remote

    So Smart TVs really need to get dumb
    • Excellent point

      What you are talking about is Second Screen, where the big beautiful HD is displayed on the big screen and all the interactivity happens on the small screen in your hand. The user is never taken out of the experience to do things related to what he is watching.

      Brightcove makes tools for developing second screen apps for iPad/Apple TV.
  • A Smart TV should have

    a cable box tuner and DVR built in. And in the future, when broadband can handle it, game consoles should go away in favor of thin clients built into the TV that can connect to any gaming server the user wants. The ideal here is to get rid of all auxiliary boxes that surround the TV.
    Michael Kelly
    • so that when one part of the set up fails..... have to buy another complete kit at a high price! What is needed is an HD terminal that connects to a sleek looking computer with all the streaming capability you could ever need, you don't need catch up apps because you can go to the sites and with the addition of twin HD tuners and PVR software you could have the ideal combination - one that can be easily updated.
  • Viewsonic have seen the way forward

    The have android embedded in a monitor. Only a matter of time before this comes to TVs
    Alan Smithie
  • Munster

    This is the guy that determined that zero Surfaces have been sold by watching one Microsoft store in a mall for two hours
    • Not really someone I would trust

      Come on, isn't this the guy that said Apple will be putting out a TV...for the past 30 months?

      I'm wondering if he's being truthful, just to try and pump up Apple stock (it has dropped significantly since he said buy buy buy at close to 700.00 per share)

      And yet people here are talking about theirs, so are they selling, or what?
      William Farrel
    • At least it's looking up for Android tablets
      William Farrel
  • I want my TV to be dumb as a rock.

    A good LED monitor with several HDMI inputs. I'll provide the smarts externally, thanks.
    • And WiFi and an OPEN standard replacing AirPlay

      Agreed.... Smart TV should become totally STUPID (even tuners inside the set is history).

      TV sets should be as stupid and flat as possible, just multiple HDMI input; great sound; great video quality; WiFi; and an OPEN standard (that replaces proprietary AirPlay) to support "second screen" communication. Apps on tablets and mobiles will provide content discovery (all forms and shapes depending on user segment).

      No remote (because that is delivered with the external "smart boxes").

      Some people only have a zapper box. Geeks will have many boxes.

      I hope Apple will ship its first TV-set without tuner but with an iPod Touch (for content discovery, source selection, set preferences).
      Just In Case
    • Smart TVs are just hype

      All you need is a cheap computer or Raspberry Pi, XBMC ( (or equivalent)) and there you go - a smart tv cheap as chips that works with your smart phone
  • Smart TV should become dumb TVs.

    In full agreement with SimRos1000, its something i've been saying for some time now. With the rise of tablets such as the iPad and and smart phones in the living rooms. TVs should be becoming more like monitor displays. Just a dumb high definition screen (with wifi) to display or stream the content or service that's on my devices. The service and apps these smart tvs offers we already have on our tablets, its redundant and unnecessary (i.e. Web browser, Angry Birds).
  • "Manufacturers should focus less on adding more content..."

    "...and more on improving how users can interact with that content."

    I don't agree with the second part, but I think the main problem impairing ALL smart TV OEMs is they're competing with traditional cable TV service with one arm tied behind their back. Most of the streaming TV services and hardware based solutions I've seen don't necessarily struggle for quantity of content. It's actually the opposite. They all have tons of "apps" and "widgets" for Hulu, YouTube, Vimeo, etc. but when you dig deeper, you find they're missing specific content that's remains available on ComCast, FiosTV, TWCable, etc. Until they can solve that, which requires cooperation with the networks and TV/Movie studios, smart TVs are always going to be lacking in comparison. It doesn't matter if there are only a few shows not available if they happen to be your favorite shows.

    As for the feelings of getting away from boxes and peripherals and putting it all in the TV, no thanks unless the "brains" are modular/upgradeable. I don't want to but a 50"+ size TV and 2-3 years down the road feeling new model envy because even though my TV still has a great picture and sound, it can't do what the current models can in terms of smarts.

    And, eliminating the boxes is becoming a non-argument anyway when devices the size of AppleTV and smaller are in play. They can easily be mounted or tucked in behind the screen itself and have only a tiny wireless receiver visible. We're no longer talking about the big boxy STBs provided by the cable companies that pretty much require a piece of furniture to house.
  • Fast, easy search across services is key to smart TV success

    For Smart TV sales to take off, the challenge of search & discovery for the TV screen must be vanquished. Onscreen keyboard navigation must go. It's time for Kannuu: