The War on the TV’s Operating System

20/01/2015

The TVs are becoming “smart”, but the question is whose brains will they end up using.

Smart TV

If you followed CES earlier this month, you must have noticed the amount of fuss there was around 4K TVs. There were also a lot of chatter around operating systems being embedded into the new set of smart TVs.

There are 4 players vying to capture our attention in the living room entertainment hub today:

  1. The set top box from our content provider
  2. The streamer or OTT set top box from… someone
  3. The Chromecast dongle and its competitors
  4. The TV itself – who needs all these accessories?

When it comes to TVs, they are now sold as “Smart” TVs. The brackets over “smart” will be explained at a future post dealing with my feelings with that prefix. At the heart of it though, is a migration of the main TV processor from a no-name operating system and a MIPS chipset to a modern operating system and most probably ARM. TVs are essentially becoming large smartphones.

Here are the announcements I’ve seen during CES:

Google

Google announced in their official Android blog that it struck some interesting deals in this space: the interesting vendors in there are Sony and Sharp.

For Google, this is an important move, as they are trying to get Android to be in every possible screen that we use. In the last Google I/O, they have announced the expansion of Android from Smartphones and Tables to watches, cars and TVs.

Two TV manufacturers isn’t much but it is a start.

Sony

Sony went all-Android, announcing that all of their Sony Bravia Smart TVs will be Android.

Sony already uses Android in its smartphones. Their assets in the digital life area can be introduced to their Bravia TVs through Android, and some of that effort can then be trickled to their smartphones (if they will still have a smartphone business to talk about).

Sharp

Sharp also announced an Android TV – their SmartCentral 4.0.

Most probably just testing the waters here.

LG

LG, for some reason, decided to shove webOS into their smart TV.

LG is probably looking at Samsung and its faltering position in the Android smartphone market. Not wanting to be there if and when it time comes, it is looking to build its own future and beef its understanding and capabilities in the operating system and the developers ecosystem domain (aka software). If this succeeds, which is a big if, we may see LG introducing webOS into future smartphones.

The selection of webOS is a weird one to me. I’d prefer going with AOSP (the Android Open Source Project) and replace Google’s own services with others – which is what happens in China and other places. What is the point of using a dead operating system to build a new product?

Samsung

Samsung is pushing Tizen to everything these days. TVs are no different.

As there is no dominant player in the operating system of the TV, this move makes sense – especially if you are concerned about your Android future.

Samsung is probably pushing their connected home acquisition of SmartThings into fusing all of its consumer electronic assets. They will need to make sure Tizen gets a royal treatment in this integration. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Tizen next on toasters and washing machines.

Panasonic

Panasonic opted to join forces with Mozilla and place Firefox OS in its smart TV.

This one is most probably targeting service providers who wish to rid themselves of the set top box – having Firefox OS in both phones and TVs in developing countries, and in a way controlled by the service provider will be a dream come true for the ones promoting this operating system.

Why is it important?

The TV operating system hasn’t been selected yet, and for now, most of us don’t really care. My guess is that most smart TVs today aren’t even connected to the Internet, making their smartness useless. This will gradually change.

Apple is also an interesting player in this space, and to some extent, so are Amazon and Microsoft.

The old guard of the past – the content providers – are mostly left in the sidelines here, which might not bode well for them.