Swedish company People of Lava has announced an Android-based internet-connected television. Say what you will about this particular product, but I personally think this is a very good idea that is a long time coming. I don’t really care that much about having a TV that can do things. I use a TV as a glorified monitor, hooking it up to various boxes like DVRs that do the heavy lifting. But what I do care about is having electronics that don’t suck. And I think I can make a blanket pronouncement here: by and large, the software that consumer electronics firms make for their hardware is very, very bad.Not only is the software bad, in that it often doesn’t live up to the promise of the hardware it’s loaded on and actually degrades the experience, rather than enhancing it, but due to the fast-paced nature of the consumer electronics hardware release schedule, the software is unlikely to ever be updated substantially (even when there’s a mechanism for doing a firmware upgrade), and is destined to be abandoned and orphaned, while new hardware gets new features that could easily be implemented in software. A television or AV receiver generally lasts for a long time. I continue to use consumer electronic hardware that I bought 20 years ago. But you’ll be lucky if the software from today’s fancy gadgets is getting any attention a year after its manufacture date.
Now, 20 years ago, that didn’t matter. Your TV didn’t have an upgradeable operating system anyway. But a modern TV or Blu-ray player has a rather respectable microprocessor, a decent amount of RAM, some internal memory and usually a USB slot that can have a thumb drive installed in it for more disk space, ethernet and/or wi-fi, and, of course, HDMI out. My Samsung Blu-ray player is a more capable computer than the computer I used in college. Why doesn’t it run a proper operating system? Maybe my Blu-ray player is an outlier. Not only does is have some computer-esque features such as Youtube, Pandora, and Netflix widgets, but I actually did receive a firmware upgrade that both improved existing features and added others (unfortunately, the added feature was a Blockbuster widget). But I’m pretty sure that if that update wasn’t the last one, it will have been the next-to-last one. Samsung probably can’t afford to expend too many engineering resources on providing updates to its existing products when the pressure’s on to release new, flashier ones. In fact, the incentives are upside-down, because what Samsung really wants is for its existing customers to be enticed by new hardware, not keep upgrading what has already been sold.
If we can get over that upside-down incentives issue, however, there’s a big case to be made for consumer electronics manufacturers to standardize their more computing-intensive products on a standard OS like Android. They would be able to piggyback on the existing feature set, and presumably have fewer problems with basic bugs, and focus their energies on the whiz-bang functionality that would set their products apart. And consumers could win by having more flexibility to expand the functionality of their devices, even tapping into enthusiast-oriented resources and creating their own widgets.
I hope that this is only the first of many Android-based televisions we see on the market.