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The Next Big Thing In Personal Computing

Apple brought smartphones to the consumer landscape like no one did in 2007; are we gearing up for another quantum change in the scene of consumer technology?
by Praneeth Baratam
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Why is television so addictive and why didn't the likes of YouTube replace our good old cable service? When I see my family and friends prefer regular cable over on-demand access, I keep questioning myself - what's driving this behavior inspite of infinite choice on the Internet?

The answer is simple, SIMPLICITY! Unlimited choice causes anxiety and requires effort to find what we want! On the other hand many don't mind settling for something entertaining when accessing it is brain dead simple.

We may need to bring in some concepts - channels and programming - that cable tv pioneered to internet video and build a simple and intuitive navigator (remote) to displace the cable from our living room.

Now you may be tempted to say - Youtube, etc. already have channels! Yes, they all have channels, but they don't yet have the kind of programming everybody has come to expect and there is no simple way to access them on your TV!

We should design a dongle (think ChromeCast) for our TV and a simple controller/remote to navigate through channels and programs on it. Then we should be able to leverage a third-party ecosystem to come up with programming/channels for it.

In the end, its not about flexibility and choice but about simplicity and effortlessness. Imagine the drunk on the couch, the remote in his hand and the TV before him! He is the least common denominator we should aim for!
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PREVIEW
Brainless & Effortless Entertainment
 
 
 
4 Comments
 
Praneeth Baratam, Evangelist - 6 months ago Edit
This just echoes the same underlying reason behind majority of people choosing iPhones over Android phones in the US (where there is not a big price difference between the two). Ease of use simply trumps choice. The comparison may seem a little out of place but I guess you understand where I am getting at. TVs at homes across the world are used both as laid-back relaxation media portals and as portals for active entertainment seekers. Internet media is currently catering to the second use case.
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Praneeth Baratam, Evangelist - 6 months ago Edit
It is just a labor intensive process to find the right media on the internet, and an even more technically challenging process to get that to the TV, which most people are not ready to do. Roku, Apple TV and most recently Chromecast have tried to make that easier, but the process has to evolve a long way to become a worthy cable/OTA TV replacement.
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Praveen Baratam, Maven - 6 months ago Edit
@Praneeth - What you just reiterated is only half the puzzle! The other half is programming / channels! Apple and others are trying to negotiate with existing cable networks and channels to bring the same content and programming but these two models are very different. I am afraid it will be a lost effort. Instead they should focus on building the tech and an ecosystem that can cater to this behavior and needs. Users don't need the same programming; they just need an equally entertaining one.
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Alistair Riddoch, Contributor - 23 days ago Edit
people don't like to have to work too hard each time they want to relax. sometimes they will work for years to provide themselves a preiod of relaxation. but on the day to day side. simple. fast. intuitive. non-changing, wins for most people.
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The next big frontier for personal computing is bringing the smart experience to TV and living room. I know this idea is not new and has become a cliche in a lot of circles due to some high profile debacles such as Google TV, etc. But it still stays unconquered and open to experimentation.

Look at how you navigate and access the content from your cable tv box! Its reminiscent of the old Atari console style interface in the age of iPhones and Androids. There are over 100 channels offering content and the max you can do is channel, category and favorites based navigation. A cloud powered recommendation engine is long overdue here at the minimum.

Even if we want to leave the traditional model as is and break new grounds with VOD and apps, the interface and control is still an unsolved puzzle. And boy the market is brewing interesting products to cash in on this opportunity.
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Smart TV
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Praneeth Baratam, Evangelist - 1 year ago Edit
Very true, our set top boxes are extremely underpowered and poor-featured in this day and age of inexpensive SoCs (system on a chip). An individual's/family's TV viewing behaviors are very much patterned and so the channel changing experience can be made completely intuitive and recommendation driven. For example, a user who just tuned to a movie channel playing a movie 'XYZ' that has begun an hour ago, can be offered an option to watch that movie from the beginning sourced through VOD.
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Praveen Baratam, Maven - 1 year ago Edit
Seeking a TV program with the help of VOD is already available on few cable/satellite Set Top Boxes.
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Praneeth Baratam, Evangelist - 1 year ago Edit
@Praveen, this is news to me. The technology may have been realized but, I have not seen any set-top boxes that could do this. Well, its not about seeking back the currently playing program, it has also got to do with the intelligent things that a cable box could do with your choice of a channel/program. Like you suggested, this can be backed up by a strong cloud based recommendation engine.
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Praveen Baratam, Maven - 1 year ago Edit
@Praneeth - I heard of this feature from few friends working on STBs while proposing Android as a suitable platform to them. But as far as I know most STBs are internet capable today and nothing is preventing them from incorporating a cloud recommendation engine. I dont understand why its not yet in the pipeline!
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Android on TV is awesome! Way better than everything else I tried so far - Windows, Linux, and what not. Android is much easier to navigate on big displays that are viewed from a distance than the rest. Its a coincidence that something designed for smartphones and tablets caters equally well for our TVs too.

But there is a problem, a very sore one indeed. 'Point & Click' just doesn't cut it and all those fancy handheld keyboards and remotes are 'Fancy' at best. They need getting used to and even then they are a pain to to use. Interfaces designed around these silly remotes and handhelds suck big time and this limitation is preventing Smart TV from going mainstream.

I sometimes wonder how easy it would be if I could just touch my TV to control it. It would be silly to run to the TV every time we want to do something but what if we can hold a full touch remote (customized tablet) in our hand that mirrors our TV display onto it and we can just touch and interact with it to interact with our TV!!!

Isn't 'Miracast' (WiFi display) achieving something similar albeit in the reverse fashion! Yes, but with one big problem. To use it we need to disconnect from WiFi and forgo internet connectivity! A deal breaker for most of us.
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Full Touch Remote
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Praneeth Baratam, Evangelist - 1 year ago Edit
There is validity to every bit of your post, Praveen. I have been trying to find the ideal HTPC (home theater PC) for a while now. I have several ways to control my PC but not the best way. TVs have come a long way. Android on TV is great, just great. But the problem again is control/navigation. There is no perfect solution out there (not that there are ever any perfect solutions). People on the Apple bandwagon are not immune to this problem either.
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Praveen Baratam, Maven - 1 year ago Edit
@Praneeth - I have been pondering over this problem for few weeks now looking for ways to solve it. A software only solution to replicate the display of one Android device to another where one is serving the big display and the other as remote is possible with some caveats. Obviously both the devices need to be on the same WiFi network and should have good signal quality to support high throughput between them. (SD quality screen replication needs at least 20 Mbps end to end connectivity).
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Praveen Baratam, Maven - 1 year ago Edit
Contd.. There will also be some sync delay (~100 milliseconds) between the remote and the main display. It may not be perceivable in majority of the situations but in some cases it will be. On the other hand Miracast is a mature ultra low latency screen replication solution for Android. If our android device has two wireless NICs, one for connecting to regular WiFi and another to host the p2p WiFi connection with the Miracast enabled TV, all the problems with using Android for HTPC are solved.
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Praveen Baratam, Maven - 1 year ago Edit
Apparently, the WiFi issue has been addressed on newer Android devices but Miracast has one more Achilles's heel; its trying to stream HD Video and Audio from a battery powered device to a remote display. Ideally the handheld device should be an accessory to the main display, only used for browsing and navigating thereby prolonging its battery life. Its much easier and faster to stream Low-Fi display to the handheld for navigation and control than the other way around.
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After posting this topic and its first post, it crossed my mind that, I and Intel's Mooly Eden may be looking at the wrong side of the plate. What I intend to say is that, the next big thing may not be software based at all. It may be innovative hardware. I was convinced this is the case after I watched excerpts of Samsung's presentation at CES 2013. I think the next big thing would be flexible displays and the infinite possibilities they would open.

Imagine a 7 inch tablet that folds in half making it a handy smartphone or a smartphone that folds or wraps around your wrist as a watch.

Watch the video and trust me you will be amazed.
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PREVIEW
Flexible display demo
 
 
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Praveen Baratam, Maven - 1 year ago Edit
Application/Software innovation lags hardware innovation by a huge margin of time in most cases. Touchscreens, GUIs and recently NFC have waited long and some are still waiting for the right application/software to come by.
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Praveen Baratam, Maven - 1 year ago Edit
However we should not forget that most opportunities start on the hardware side and are passed onto the software side where their confines expand to include all those unimagined and unintended twists and turns (Eg. - Personal Computers from processors made for calculators). Flexible displays are a fantastic new possibility and I am already excited about what new forms and devices will emerge out of this.
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Praneeth Baratam, Evangelist - 1 year ago Edit
I understand that right implementation has historically lagged quite significantly behind hardware innovation. But, if we look at the pace at which newer technologies are being incorporated into consumer devices, I am very confident that as soon as this technology is available for mass production, it will have supporting software end. We are not talking about an additional convenience like NFC, but a groundbreaking and category-crushing innovation such as this.
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Praveen Baratam, Maven - 1 year ago Edit
@Praneeth - Lets just hope that this flexible display technology will find interesting applications soon. By the way NFC is not as trivial as you think. You will be surprised how NFC will transform the digital landscape in the coming years.
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Intel's Mooly Eden: 'Voice will do to touch what touch did to keyboards'. A recent article on Engadget highlighted this visionary who thinks touch based user interface is not intuitive, at least less intuitive than voice based interface.

Apple brought smartphones to the consumer landscape like no one did in 2007; are we gearing up for another quantum change in the scene of consumer technology? Touch based user interface completely phased out physical keypads/keyboards. Would voice be the next big thing and wash out touch interfaces?

Talking to computers to seek information and get tasks done has always been at the heart of scores of science fiction movies till date. It makes sense that voice will be a very comfortable way to interact with the tens of devices that we use in our everyday lives. It is a natural interface. We talk to people, but do not usually 'touch' them to interact, no pun intended.

What do you think? Will voice be the next big thing?
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Voice interactive services - Google Voice and Siri
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Praveen Baratam, Maven - 1 year ago Edit
Voice interfaces are definitely more natural and intuitive than any other UI technology out there. But comprehending natural language beyond simple constructs is a huge task and boy we are making progress. Looking at how Siri and others are evolving, we could soon talk to our devices as naturally as we would to each other. Privacy will be a concern though. Talking to a device is not very private compared to touch interfaces. Anyone nearby can overhear what you are doing.
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Praneeth Baratam, Evangelist - 1 year ago Edit
@Praveen, 'privacy' is definitely the major issue with voice based UI. It is not an issue, and in fact very useful inside a car or at one's home. But imagine talking to your phone/tablet at a meeting or at an office. We do so many things in a day discreetly on our phones using touch based interfaces. What I foresee though is that we will have a seamless touch and voice based interaction with our devices in the near future.
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