Ready access to web content through TVs took a big step toward the mass market at the recent Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas as Sony, Samsung, LG, Toshiba and Vizio, among others, announced devices in the category - some mooted for launch as early as spring 2009. Of greater significance was the common choice of the Intel-Yahoo Widget Channel software platform to support them.
While demand for web content access via the TV is currently hard to assess, there is in our view an inevitability about the uptake of internet services in the living room as there was on mobile - whatever the naysayers currently argue. People increasingly want to join up the pieces of their digital existence and to access those same services wherever and whenever they want, in the most convenient way possible. TVs will play a major role in this.
Crucially, there was a remarkable level of agreement between these manufacturers in the way web content and services will be enabled on their devices. All have chosen the Widget Channel technology, co-developed by Intel and Yahoo, as a common framework for web services on their devices - primarily networked TVs, but also peripherals such as media streamers.
The commonality achieved through the adoption of Widget Channel is excellent news for web content and application developers looking to reach beyond the PC and (increasingly) mobile devices, into the heart of the living room.
Rich internet apps
While the CE industry has generally been fairly good at reaching agreement on key technologies (interfaces such as HDMI are a recent example), opting for a common software platform to enable web services was never a foregone conclusion.
The mobile phone industry has already demonstrated this time and time again, and the CE industry has looked in danger of following suit with several efforts to recreate the wheel extant. So the fact that numerous household names in CE have seemingly done so by adopting Widget Channel will provide a solid proving ground for the Web as a cornerstone of the connected home experience.
Nevertheless, Widget Channel is only the beginning for integrating web experiences with CE. More sophisticated rich internet application technologies, such as the Adobe-led Open Screen Project and Microsoft's Silverlight, are already being prepared for CE applications.
The CE vendors will need to develop a strong understanding of which of these technologies they need to support, based on regular dialogue with web content and application providers. Yahoo and Intel will also have to work hard to maintain their early advantage over the longer term.
These announcements do leave some important questions unanswered. Where, for instance, is the best place for the Widget Channel functionality to reside‾ The TV, a Blu-ray Disc player, a media streamer or elsewhere‾ Choice and flexibility in deployment within the home will be key here, to avoid unnecessary replication of functionality and the associated additional cost involved with adding the Intel-based subsystem to a device.