Jeremy Toeman has worked in the field of convergence between computers, the Internet and TV for more than 10 years. He is a founding partner of Stage Two, a consumer technology product experience firm in San Francisco, and can be found blogging at livedigitally.com.
Forget Google TV scrapping CES, the biggest challenge smart televisions face in 2011 is overcoming customers’ FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt).
Up until the early 2000s, buying a new TV was easy. The bigger the screen, the better the television. Sure, some televisions had more bells and better whistles, but in the era of standard definition and cathode ray tubes, bigger was better.
When high definition flat screens became affordable in the middle of the last decade, consumers still felt pretty comfortable buying a new television. With the exception of 720p vs. 1080p and LCD vs. plasma (and a few other little things), there was not a lot of FUD for consumers. People understood (for the most part) the technology they were getting and the value it provided them. They also more or less understood the product life cycle their television provided them.
Now enter smart TVs and 3-D TVs. To the industry, these devices represent an opportunity to upsell consumers with added benefits and features. But to consumers, these connected televisions also introduce planned obsolescence into television life cycles. Planned obsolescence is a concept where companies sell products with a limited lifespan or functionality to encourage repeat purchases and upgrades. The result? Consumers are staying away from new TV. Instead of getting excited for new features, they are getting scared. To quote a recent industry article: “Despite all the hype, 3-D sets haven’t been a runaway success, and Internet-capable ones haven’t fared much better.”
Why is this happening? Sure, a slow economy is one reason, but there are others that are more concerning to television makers and the consumer electronics industry as a whole. It’s my opinion that FUD is a major factor in 3-D TV failure as well. Consumers’ questions include: Do I need more glasses? Does it work with my Blu-ray? Will all titles be compatible?
1. The Internet on TV Sounds Confusing
For average consumers, the thought of hooking up the Internet to their television set sounds confusing. Many wonder what they will have to do to make a smart TV work with their existing home theater setup. People understand a cable box and an AV receiver – sort of (hence the “input one” problem that plagues the industry). Adding the Internet into that equation is off-putting for many people who just want to watch Top Chef. Emphasizing ease of use and simple connectivity should be a main concern for television manufacturers in 2011.
2. The Internet on TV Is Confusing
Most Internet TVs have a poor user interface and force users to confront awkward technology questions (for example, are you using WEP or WPA?). These are issues users don’t enjoy resolving. Conjoining home networking with the home theater just doesn’t sound like fun to consumers. They want to watch their new television without a call to tech support, and that is understandable. Delivering products that are simple to set up and easy to use should be a main concern for television manufacturers. Just because there’s a “pretty” new user interface with humongous buttons to click on and an up/down/left/right interface doesn’t make it a great user experience.
3. Fear of Obsolescence
Before smart TVs arrived, a TV was just a TV. Now a TV is an app store and a browser and so much more. Users will worry that the Internet TV they purchase this year will be outdated in six months. That kind of product cycle is fine for a phone, but it makes less sense for a large TV. Add in turf wars between Apple, Google and others and you have an unstable, rapidly iterating media landscape that most consumers fear to enter. To catch on, new televisions need to demonstrate staying power and reassure consumers that they will still work well in 2015.
4. Customer Support Concerns
Something we’ve all learned through PCs is the incredible ability to “pass the buck” on customer support problems introduced by high tech products. For example, when you can’t get a video game to play right on your laptop, and you call Dell, its support staff will probably tell you it’s a problem with NVIDIA’s drivers, and they tell you it’s actually Microsoft’s fault, and if they even return your call or e-mail, they tell you it’s really EA’s problem, who of course sends you back to Dell (all just to play a video game!).
That’s a long-winded example, but consumers are unfortunately used to that type of service, and nobody likes the idea of calling Samsung’s support people and having them tell you it’s a problem with your Netgear router, who in turn point the finger at your Comcast Internet provider, and they turn you over to Netflix, who sends you back to Samsung (all just to watch a movie!).
5. Poorly Defined Value Proposition
As I wrote in my last Mashable post, most smart TVs are being touted for their technology rather than the benefits they provide people. Instead of telling people that the weather app is on their TV (a feature), the industry should emphasize the personal weather forecasts smart TVs generate that are tailored for individual needs (a benefit). For the average consumer, Facebook on TV sounds like a lot of work (“Where will I type? Do I still “Like” stuff? Does FarmVille work? What else do I need to do?”). Putting Twitteron the television sounds like it is a lot of work. Anything that involves a mouse and a keyboard seems — and is — onerous to the living room context. The value proposition for smart TVs has to be the effortless delivery of content in ways that mirror the ease of standard TV experience.
If smart televisions want to catch on, manufacturers and advertisers must communicate their ease of use, benefits and staying power to overcome consumer fears. Manufacturers must make it crystal clear that smart TVs are a safe, long-term investment that will work in a landscape of changing technologies and content services.