The Blog

Apple Must Be Making a TV

As expected, E3 has given us a glimpse of exciting developments in video games, notably. But this year the Los Angeles convention has pointed to the biggest game on the planet, the future of TV.

As expected, E3 has given us a glimpse of exciting developments in video games, notably Watch Dogs. But this year the Los Angeles convention has pointed to the biggest game on the planet, the future of TV.

The battle to own the living room entertainment hub of the near future is being fought by the likes of Apple, Microsoft, Samsung, Sony and Google. And the winner will have to produce some all-encompassing software and hardware.

Microsoft fired up the tech world's imagination at E3 with SmartGlass, which is an app. But the name just happens to encapsulate the next big TV idea.

It's a concept that has obsessed many since the giant screen user interface predicted by the movie Minority Report.

Microsoft's Kinect games console, driven by hand gestures, is the closest thing we have to these scenes from the modern sci-fi classic starring Tom Cruise.

But Kinect works with "DumbGlass", so that your movements have to be captured by a camera and laser, which feeds them back into the Xbox's brain, which in turn works out where you are and what you are gesturing to the screen.

Using a "SmartGlass" solution, the pixels on the screen could become the sensors, mapping movements precisely. In theory, programming behind the SmartGlass would directly recognise your hand movements, without you having to touch it, like some giant camera sensor.

The "SmartGlass" could also be designed to interact with beams fired at it from a remote or tablet.

There are already big screen solutions governed by touch and Samsung's is highly rated.

But nobody wants to keep getting up from the sofa to interact with the telly and they don't want the screen covered with finger marks.

At present, SmartGlass is just an app that allows greater interactivity between your touchscreen device and TV screen, a glorified remote control that works with your Xbox Live account.

It follows the unveiling at last year's E3 show of Nintendo's Wii U, which demonstrated the ability, in video games, to fire virtual projectiles at the TV screen by flicking them from the tablet with your finger or a stylus.

Microsoft is hardly concealing its all-embracing TV intentions by releasing Windows 8 for all to try. The American software giant's next generation user interface is designed to work in any way that you want to interact with your screen.

It comprises app-style tiles you can click with a mouse, touch on a tablet or phone, or point to on a TV screen, via Kinect gestures. It will also have voice controls.

Logically, the next Xbox console should be a TV, with the Xbox hardware and camera for motion-control and Skype calling built in to it.

Add a "SmartGlass" sensor layer in the screen to interact more accurately with a beam from a remote or your fingers, as in the Minority Report clip, and you have your next generation TV.

Sure Microsoft could achieve this with a load of accessories, including an overlay screen and a box. But who wants the clutter?

Samsung has already released the closest thing to this new TV. The latest version of their SmartTV, complete with apps and app store, is the ES8000.

It has an in-built camera and you can control it with gestures and voice. It has been hailed as an almost perfect TV.

At E3 this year Samsung also unveiled a cloud-based video game store which will stream "a mix of family-friendly and triple A video games" directly to this type of TV. But will it work as well as Kinect, the new Wii U or PS3 Move?

One thing is certain, that touchscreen devices will evolve more and more to function as TV remote controls. Ultimately there's no reason you wouldn't be able to freeze the TV action on your tablet screen, enlarge the still using your fingers and take a screen grab.

And, no doubt, you'll be able to tag video characters the same way you can tag pictures on Facebook.

The Samsung Smart TV has already been hit with the criticism that it "lacks maturity". The web browser is too unresponsive using the remote control.

You're better off using your tablet for that.

But when you find what you are looking for, on the small screen, how cool would it be to be able to flick it Wii U-style from your tablet on to the big, beautiful hi-def TV screen?

There is clearly huge scope for changing the living room TV experience and it lies in importing and integrating functions we have grown to love on other devices such as the iPhone, iPad, and big three games consoles from Xbox, PS3 and Wii.

And I think it will take an innovatory step in hardware like "SmartGlass" to achieve that.

Some are arguing that Apple is highly unlikely to start making TVs. One FT blogger said it's because "consumers are already well served by the cut-throat competition that is bringing screens with amazing clarity to living rooms everywhere".

People said the same about Apple before they unleashed the iPhone in 2007 in a market full of great handsets made by well-established manufacturers.

It's not like they have to make the screens. Manufacturers would I'm sure be happy to build them according to Cupertino's spec. After all, even Samsung makes screens for Apple.

It feels like we are just one "SmartGlass" step away from a new killer TV design, which could run on Apple, Google or Microsoft OS systems.

The fact that Microsoft, Samsung and others are all over the hardware forces Apple to the table. Whoever designs the best next-gen TVs, can virtually guarantee the survival of their software or that of a partner, if it can be well integrated.

Can you imagine Apple partnering Samsung or Sony, or anyone producing essentially Microsoft or Android TVs? Thought not.

So where does that leave Apple? And Nintendo and Sony for that matter. They could all produce a load of hardware plug ins that clutter up your living room in an attempt to deliver next generation TV. Sony must be in with a shout, because all of the required hardware elements are part of their DNA. And there's no reason Nintendo couldn't produce a branded TV with all of its hardware integrated.

But the pressure is on Apple to apply its biggest talents to reinventing the TV in the same way they revolutionized the mobile phone.

The prospect of Microsoft's Windows 8 software becoming embedded in every living room TV on the planet via a browser is surely Apple's nemesis in waiting.

Equally horrifying would be the thought of Google teaming up with Samsung and every other manufacturer to produce Android TVs, in the same way it has circled its wagons around Apple in the smartphone market.

Also, even if Apple was free to install its software on other brands of TVs, it has no guarantee that people will adopt it if there is already a working ecosystem in place. Especially if the rival doesn't require an iTunes account.

Think how Microsoft established itself on every PC ever made. It must be planning to do the same on TVs with Windows 8.