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Networked Devices: Peculiarity of the Smart TV

Posted on: 07 May '13
Vallabh Munshi
User Experience Designer

There is enough said and written about the information continuum. As an introduction to this post, I will say it again that digital services are spreading from desktop computers to mobiles, to tablets, to Smart TVs, and to any other utopian devices that exist.

There are fundamental differences between the Smart TV, and other internet connected devices. The differences are so elementary that we may have missed it in this ‘mission’ of designing across digital channels and making websites responsive.

Digital services designed for the computer leverage big screens and fast processors making it possible for users to do intense work. Services on the phone thrive due to the mobility of the device, helping users to do micro-tasks like tweeting, reading emails, using maps, etc., on the go. Services on the tablets take advantage of its good screen size as well as its mobility, which provide ease of reading, writing, browsing, consuming rich media and doing simple transactions.

Computers, mobiles or tablets are personal devices, always used in intimate spaces like office cubicles or an individual’s lap or palm. Such devices engage only one person at a time.

A TV, on the other hand is a family (or community) device, and is used in common spaces like the living room or lounge. The TV influences and engages the whole group of people watching it. Viewers in the same room fight for the remote, brood over politics and celebrate sport victories together.

If content is being extended to the TV using responsive web techniques and apps, with the belief that a TV is just another device with a big screen connected to the internet, then that understanding is dubious.

A Smart TV is not a very different technology; people just behave very differently with it.
Human behavior changes drastically in a non-intimate space or in the presence of other people. It might be uncomfortable to read personal emails, use social networking accounts or make online transactions. Individual tasks that do not concern other people in the room will be avoided on such devices.

So, what is it that groups of people might love to do together? Buy grocery? Choose a car for rent? Plan a holiday? Look at family photos? Attend a wedding virtually? The possibilities are immense.

Digital services for the Smart TV have a lot to borrow from what video games did for the Idiot Box; allow multiple players to play the game, team-up people to do a task, and most importantly, let people have fun together. What are your thoughts?

Vallabh Munshi

A UX designer at Mindtree, Vallabh specializes in experience design for enterprise applications that strive to be smart and operationally excellent. He has designed for businesses such as Airlines, Banking and Travel. As a UX professional, Vallabh believes that technology needs to adapt to people, not the other way round. He developed an eye for graphic design and typography in his master of design school - IDC, IIT Bombay. His graduation in Architecture has trained him to deal with complexity and to organise information. He is currently leading the cross-channel UX design community at Mindtree and aspires to be a thought leader in the same.

  • Taniya

    I quite agree to this view. The context within which a smart TV is used, is more socially-visually ‘open’ to all. It would be interesting to see its usage and user interaction if installed in a hotel room versus a homely living room or in a public space. Smart TV has a lot to offer in the upcoming digital domain.

  • Anand T S

    Quite true. As you said, a ‘smart’ tv is not a personal device like other gadgets you had mentioned amongst its smart cousins. The idea of gaming consoles and how today’s XBoxes and Playstations have come, gives some idea of what people like to do together. It could be a combined TV and House monitoring system, with remote camera access through TV, or monitor and control all the gadgets at home, through a central panel / dashboard control using your ‘smart TV’. Now we are talking business. But an important note here is that the other devices which we use along with our Smart TV has to be ‘smart’ as well to provide inputs and support all the functionalities we expect our smart TV to do. It could be right from a simple shower knob to an air conditioner or a refrigerator. What are your thoughts?

  • Anshuman Singh

    As someone had put it, it’s also about the ‘lean forward’ vs ‘lean backward’ experiences. At this moment TV (in the original sense of the word) is more lean-back than lean-in.

    It’s also about manufacturers trying to find alternative avenues for revenues. Many TV screens get used in the Retail or Hospitality environments – where interactivity is a must and may be very different to the scenarios outlined above.

    I have also seen limited cases of people (staying alone – hence privacy is not a concern) hooking up their TV as a display for a wide variety of usage. Two thirds of British households have three televisions, a survey has found. One in six families have five televisions. This also means that TV is personal and communal at different occasions.

    • Thanks Anshuman,

      You have touched upon an interesting point here – that the boundary between ‘lean forward’ and ‘lean backward’ devices is becoming increasingly fuzzy. Vimeo on the computer is enjoyed on the ‘couch mode’, and the TV could be put to use in a ‘work mode’?

      I did miss to explore more scenarios in the thought-post above. Just wanted to express that – design for personal devices is an explored area, and if need be, we will continue to see incremental innovation in it. Design for communal (and interactive) devices at home is a road less travelled and something ground-breaking awaits here.