This year's Consumer Electronics Show is getting ready to wrap up in Las Vegas tomorrow. There may not have been a single blockbuster product announcement, but when it comes to the future of television, CES is always good for a few hints about what to expect. By piecing together some of those clues, we can begin to see a picture of what the future holds.
There are a number of trends toward the future of television that are already well underway, some of which will be built upon in 2012. Web connectivity is increasingly standard on new TV sets, time-shifting content is becoming the norm and viewers are supplementing the TV experience using the "second screens" of smartphones and tablets. Nobody knows what Apple has in mind for the TV hardware industry, but consumers and industry incumbents alike have been conditioned to expect it to make a big impact.
Whether or not Apple's rumored iTV will end up revolutionizing the industry - or at least heightening consumers' expectations - remains to be seen. In the meantime, television is already moving steadily into the future and a few emerging trends are worth noting.
Goodbye Remote Control, Hello Voice, Touch and Gesture Control
One of the biggest emerging trends in TV has nothing to do with content or hardware specs, but rather how we interact with it. In particularly, those interactions are set to become much more natural than pointing a remote at the screen and pressing buttons. Instead, our television sets, which will recognize our faces, will be controlled by our voices and hand gestures. Think Kinect and Siri, but built directly into smart TVs built by companies other than Microsoft and Apple.
One of those manufacturers is Samsung, whose new line of smart TV sets feature voice and gesture control, as well as facial recognition. In a video demo, the user asks the television to open a Web browser and then moves his hand to control the mouse cursor to navigate. The "click" paradigm of the desktop is replaced by the squeezing of one's hand.
Ubuntu TV, the new offering from the makers of the popular Linux-based OS, also launched this week and uses gesture and touch controls for navigation through content. It will also pair with smartphones to allow touch based control and an enhanced screen screen experience.
The remote control isn't as good as dead just yet. It will be quite some time before a majority of consumers adopt these state-of-the-art new devices, and by then we'll probably be talking about even more mind-blowingly futuristic features that TV manufacturers will be working on.
Even with solutions as impressive as Samsung's gesture control, there's still good reason to keep a keyboard handy. Moving your hand to every individual letter on an on-screen keyboard and virtually squeezing it isn't exactly as efficient as traditional typing. The remote that comes with the Boxee Box does a good job of packing a full QWERTY keyboard onto the back of a simple remote control.
TV: The Next Frontier For Application Developers
Dan Rowinksi detailed earlier this week. Ubuntu TV will further tie the smartphone to the TV and MobiTV announced an initiatve to bring its "TV Everywhere" initiative to even more screens.Another big trend coming out of CES this year has been the convergence of television with mobile platforms, as our own
Samsung's new line of smart TVs will not only have futuristic user controls, but the platform that runs on it has a growing selection of applications thanks in large part to the open APIs and SDK that Samsung makes available to developers.
After a somewhat disappointing start, Google TV tried rebooting its efforts this week with the launch of new devices made by Sony, LG, Vizio and Lenovo. The platform brings various flavors of Android and many of its apps to bigger screens, with Lenovo's new K91 TV sporting Ice Cream Sandwich.
The user interface of our television set is going to feel more and more like a mobile platform, complete with content and media apps, games and whatever else developers can dream up for larger screens. This is increasingly the case now thanks to Android, Google TV and platforms like Samsung's, and the trend isn't expected to stop once Apple launches a TV set that very well may offer a scaled up version of iOS.