AI: Transforming the TV into the Ultimate Computing Hub for Smart Homes

I wanted to write an extension to Bob Raike’s recent article on reimagining the TV business. I am not neutral on the subject, and neither do I want to jump on the AI bandwagon, but there are a lot of reasons to rethink what a TV is because we may be close to a point when home PCs, or computers to be more generic, are becoming unnecessarily complicated for what consumers need.

PC Thy Name is Consumer

The first PCs were primarily used by hobbyists and enthusiasts who wanted to experiment with computing and programming. These early computers were not very powerful and did not have many practical applications, but they were affordable and accessible to individuals who wanted to learn and tinker with technology. In a way, the PC was always a home PC first before it became anything else. That’s an important point to remember as you trudge to the conclusion of this article.

Fortunately, the development of the first personal computers coincided with the rise of the home electronics market in the 1970s. Companies such as Radio Shack and Commodore began marketing personal computers directly to consumers for use at home. This helped to popularize the idea of the home computer, and paved the way for the more advanced and user-friendly computers that followed. It was in the early 1980s that home computing really took off, thanks to the introduction of the Apple II, Commodore PET, and the Radio Shack TRS-80. These early computers were expensive, but they were seen as essential tools for education, business, and personal use.

The 1990s saw the rise of the internet, and home computing became even more important as people began to connect to the world wide web. This led to the development of new software and hardware, such as modems and web browsers, that made it easier for people to access and use the internet. The 1990s saw the rise of computer companies like Dell and Gateway that basically started with someone building a PC from off-the-shelf components, packaging it, and selling it direct to consumers. Before there was any audio or high-end graphics in a business computer, it was right there on a home PC. Often, driven by gaming and entertainment software, home PCs were the engine of upgrades in performance, user interfaces, and the emergence of more media solutions. You can firmly put our modern reliances on MP3 and MPEG file formats on stuff that happened in the 90s. Businesses were not looking for any of these technologies, they were barely making it out of the years of mainframes and terminals. That all changed as PC vendors ticked off more and more features that were rapidly integrated and included as standard on all computers. You may not have wanted higher resolution graphics and higher fidelity audio, but you got them anyhow. Then, you wouldn’t let go of them.

That’s an important point to remember as you trudge to the conclusion of this article.

The Smart Home Hub

Over the last two decades, home hubs, also known as smart hubs, have undergone a remarkable transformation. In the early 2000s, home hubs were relatively basic devices that could only control a limited number of smart devices, such as lighting and temperature controls. For instance, devices like the X10 and Insteon systems enabled users to control their lights and appliances remotely, but were limited in terms of connectivity and functionality.

However, with the rise of the internet of things (IoT) and the proliferation of smart devices, home hubs have become much more advanced and capable. Today’s home hubs are typically powered by machine learning algorithms, enabling them to learn from user behavior and adapt to their preferences over time. For instance, voice assistants like Google Assistant and Amazon Echo have become popular home hubs that allow users to control a variety of smart devices using voice commands. The Amazon Echo, for example, integrates with a wide range of smart home devices and allows users to control everything from their lights and thermostats to their security systems and door locks with just their voice. Similarly, Google Assistant can be used to control smart home devices from various manufacturers, and it can also be integrated with third-party apps to provide even more functionality.

The evolution of home hubs has been driven by technological advances and the growing demand for more sophisticated and integrated home automation systems. The future of home hubs looks promising, as the continued development of IoT and machine learning is likely to lead to even more intelligent and capable systems. For example, companies like Nest and Ecobee are using machine learning algorithms to create smarter thermostats that can automatically adjust temperature settings based on user behavior and preferences.

TVs: From Dumb to Smart

Television has come a long way from analog broadcasting, with advancements in technology leading to an explosion of content and delivery methods. Smart TVs, also called Internet TVs or connected TVs, have become increasingly popular due to their built-in apps for programming delivered over the internet. These apps, similar to mobile apps, are capable of collecting user data, making them appealing for advertisers.

I have to give a shout out to social TV and second screen technologies that tie together viewers consuming television content using the technology of internet communications that our found in chat and group messaging. Social media plays a vital role in fan engagement, allowing viewers to express themselves and collaborate in defining and sharing their experience. The evolution of technology is revolutionizing the way we watch TV, although it may be mostly watching TV on a device other than a smart TV because it’s easier to be social on your phone or laptop.

How AI Could Shape the New TV World Order

The truth is, the history of personal computing and TVs are highly personal in that both devices have played a significant role in the lives of all of us over the course of decades. They are, as much as devices can be, ingrained into our consciousness, and oftentimes invisible to use as technologies. It is what we do and see on these devices that really drives our appreciation and memories of them. The thing is that the two devices are not that divergent anymore, at least they shouldn’t be. We are about to enter the next era of computing evolution, powered by artificial intelligence and machine learning capabilities, enhanced by natural language interfaces, and all connected through networks, possibly powered by 5G, that are being prepared to give unfathomable amounts of processing power from cloud servers to even the most trivial of tasks.

If you’re a TV maker, and you don’t have an AI strategy then, you’re a dumb TV maker. You can read that any way you want.

Let’s put it all together by looking at what you have before you:

Smart HubProvides access to built-in apps and services, such as streaming platforms and games
Voice ControlEnables users to control the TV using voice commands, either through a built-in microphone or an external device like Google Home or Amazon Echo
Screen MirroringAllows users to display content from their smartphone or tablet on the TV screen
CastingEnables users to stream content from their smartphone or tablet to the TV
High Dynamic Range (HDR)Provides a wider range of colors and higher contrast for a more immersive viewing experience
4K ResolutionProvides four times the resolution of standard HD for incredibly sharp and detailed images
Dolby AtmosProvides immersive, three-dimensional sound that creates a more realistic audio experience
Wi-Fi ConnectivityAllows the TV to connect to the internet wirelessly, enabling access to online content and services
Artificial Intelligence (AI)Enables intelligent features such as personalized recommendations, content recognition, and voice recognition
Machine LearningEnables the TV to learn from user behavior and adapt to their preferences over time
Internet of Things (IoT)Enables the TV to connect and communicate with other smart devices in the home
Augmented Reality (AR)Enables users to interact with content in a more immersive and engaging way
Virtual Reality (VR)Provides a fully immersive viewing experience, allowing users to feel like they are part of the content
Natural Language Processing (NLP)Enables the TV to understand and respond to natural language commands and queries

Now, you can discount VR and AR, you can argue that wi-fi connectivity should include wi-fI and 5G, both of which reside easily on a smartphone. You can argue that there are a lot of other technologies that are readily available, becoming more affordable, and applicable here. For example, Regza uses a millimeter wave radar (a type of radar technology that uses radio waves in the millimeter wave frequency range to detect and measure the distance, speed, and angle of objects) to detect a TV viewer’s position and distance from a screen to optimize the screens controls for the person’s viewing position and distance. Well, argue away because they are all missed opportunities.

You have a situation now where a vast majority of productivity, search, information retrieval, and digital tasks can be managed through a dialogue with an intelligent machine of enormous capability and rapid evolution. What that means, in simple terms, is that home hub devices can evolve at a pace that would have been unimaginable a few years ago, even if it’s mostly driven by the greed and avarice of Amazon, Google, and Microsoft, in search of world domination. Putting aside the threat to mankind, this is a space race for more than bragging rights, it’s ownership of as much of the bandwidth of AI processing as possible.

Putting aside aforementioned end of mankind, and all the other ethical and legal ramifications of AI, you’re looking at a very good reason to end the existence of a home computer. I don’t mean your work laptop, or your kid’s gaming rig, but the notion that people will ever need anything more than a home hub and a phone to do almost everything they need to do in a connected world.

Who wants a piece of that pie? Well, you do if you want to sell TVs and displays. Sure, you like your products dumb, but they just have to have the right technologies and processing power, and they can stay as dumb as you’d like, as long as they are designed to meet the needs of folks that would have bought a home computer to look up recipes, browse the web, or shop online. There’s actually nothing they couldn’t do eventually, from talking through a bot filling out their tax filings to getting some advice on why their washing machines’ red and green lights are blinking at the same time because there’s nothing about it in the manual, on YouTube, or on Reddit.

Home Hub TechnologyDevelopment KitManufacturer
Amazon AlexaAlexa for DevicesAmazon
Google AssistantGoogle AssistGoogle
Apple HomeKitHomeKit Accessory ProtocolApple
Samsung SmartThingsSmartThings SDKSamsung
Connectivity Standards AllianceZigbeeCSA
Z-WaveZ-Wave 700Silicon Labs
BluetoothBluetooth MeshBluetooth SIG
ThreadThread ProtocolThread Group
Open Connectivity FoundationIoTivityCSA-IOT
AllJoynAllJoyn FrameworkAllSeen Alliance

Given that companies like Google and Amazon are going to move their home hub assistants to more AI-centric services, rebranding them in the process, I am advocating for a move to make TVs the central component of home computing. If done right, and if adopted by consumers, it should mean that laptops and home computers only need to be used for work or very specific, niche personal productivity applications. We should be looking at the existing AI space race as a means of replacing the home computer concept and that smart TVs could take the lead in changing the way consumers use computers in the home. If you take the existing model of streaming apps, add streaming interactive entertainment, and add the functionality of PCs (most of which is around cloud-based apps and services), it is very possible to move the market for displays in the home towards something that makes the TV an anachronism. It would not longer be about home computers or smart TVs, but rather, experience TVs, or concierge computing, products that bring the power of all cloud-based applications together in a single device.

Why TVs Will Never be Computers

Nontraditional digital markets, including digital gaming, online video, messaging apps, smart home, and digital music, are experiencing faster growth, with five-year CAGRs of 5-21%. These markets are projected to be worth $513 billion by 2027, led by digital gaming and online video. The smart home services market may not be as enticing given the numbers but it should be bundled in with other digital services in the model I am advocating. (Source: Omdia)

There are a lot of good reasons for never having this happen. First of all, AI is overhyped. All overhyped technologies end up being disappointing. After the irrational exuberance dissipates, and the major tech companies start to OD on tracking and pumping advertising into every nook and cranny of existence, raising subscription costs, diminishing user experiences, and monopolizing (read homogenizing) outputs, the public may wonder what the fuss was all about. Or, they may be stuck forever on hold as they spend hours trying to convince some AI-generated call-center being that their house is on fire and they need help while it struggles to explain to them that they should try resetting their fire alarms because they don’t seem to be working (burnt to a crisp as they may be).

Another good reason to assume that TVs will never get to be anything more than TVs is that we are dealing with a very old business that has fundamentally not changed in functionality the last hundred years with the exception of the actual screen and the obsolescence of coaxial cables.

Display TechnologyResearch in AcademiaVolume ProductionTime to Volume Production
Cathode Ray Tube (CRT)18971922~25 years
Liquid Crystal Display (LCD)19621980s~20-30 years
Plasma Display Panel (PDP)1964Late 1990s~30-35 years
Organic Light Emitting Diode (OLED)Early 1960sLate 1990s~30-40 years
MicroLEDEarly 2000sMid 2010s~10-15 years
QD-LEDEarly 2000sLate 2010s~10-20 years

So, display manufacturers are probably going to be very busy for the next decade trying to get away from LCDs and they are really not software-forward thinking companies. The big Korean companies, Samsung and LG, have a lot of great software, but it’s all over the place. Samsung has a TV OS, Tizen, but it has no relation to their phone OS, Android, which has no relation to their laptop OS, Windows. LG has a thread that runs through all of its offerings, ThinkQ, but that seems more like it is suited as a branding exercise to connect the consumer to LG’s products and support services. Huawei’s unified operating system, known as HarmonyOS, is designed to work across all of the company’s devices, including smartphones, tablets, laptops, smart TVs, wearables, and more. It is intended to provide a seamless user experience and allow for better integration between devices. The OS was only launched in August 2019, and Huawei has been gradually rolling it out to various devices since then. I mean, that’s actually a good approach, but will that lead to a Huawei home computing hub TV? Probably not if the US keeps pursuing sanctions, and Huawei doesn’t put a heck of a lot more investment into its software infrastructure globally.

All I know is that if you strip the hype around AI, it is, and has been for some time, a driving force in application development. Maybe it is as easy as having the equivalent of Apple’s CarPlay SDK. Just make it easy for someone to switch from the phone screen to a TV screen, and create a new experience while retaining all the inherent opportunities that AI will bring. After all, smartphones are pretty powerful, well understood, computers. However, while some of the same principles and tools of CarPlay could potentially be adapted for use with smart TVs it would require significant modifications and adaptations, as the user interface and functionality of TVs differ significantly from that of in-car entertainment systems.

In the meantime, I can keep dreaming of the night when I can drop the damn phone in a drawer, shut my laptop, and sit on the couch, and do whatever I want to do knowing that I am connected to the internet and can have exactly the same experience as I do on those other devices. Couch potatoes are an underserved minority in the computing world. Things need to change.