User interface design for televisions

2013 would seem to be the year of the TV. Last year saw a sort of awakening for many manufacturers, with the likes of Samsung and Sony releasing some really quite smart devices. But this year, if January is anything to go by, looks likely to be something else again. During the Consumer Electronics show in Las Vegas you couldn’t move without finding new TV technology. Panasonic unveiled a 56 inch 4K (that’s 4 times the definition of HD) OLED TV prototype. Samsung, not wanting to be left behind, showed off its Evolution kit. This is basically an upgrade pack for many of its more modern sets. Just like the old days of personal computing, Samsung wants us to upgrade our TVs to add power and performance. 

One other development that is impossible to miss, is the rise of the TV app. Apps are everywhere these days, but even 2 years ago you would have been hard pressed to find anyone predicting them on our TV sets. Yet here they are, offering access to YouTube, NetFlix, web browsers, and even games.

This development poses some interesting design challenges. Putting together a usable interface for a TV screen is a very different proposition to that of a smartphone. Not only does the vastly different screen size and resolution need to be considered, but also the use of a remote control as the primary interaction method (as well as the increasing use of voice, touch, and Microsoft Kinect style motion methods).

Set top box manufacturers have been developing interfaces for years, but few would argue that they have achieved much of note. Instead modern TVs are looking towards Apple, iOS, the web, and social networking for design and visual cues.

Indeed Apple is the elephant in the room in this market, with the oft rumored (but never seen) Apple TV perpetually lurking around the corner. Existing manufacturers currently lead the way in this reimagining of what a TV can do, and can be. But you suspect it will take a sprinkling of Apple magic, before the TV set truly enters the App revolution.


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