Listening to all the hubbub in CES2012 about TVs with Apps being the next big thing give cause for a wry chuckle. These TVs are mainly based on Google’s Android operating system. And the thing is that Android is based on a layer of Java on top of Linux. What’s funny ? Well, it has taken about 22years and billions of $ to get there.
Back in 1990, Java was first designed by Sun Microsystems for Interactive TV devices. They had less memory than PCs and were not all running the same CPUs, so needed a write once run anywhere language (or write once test everywhere in reality). There’s a good summary in Wired Magazine’s Saga of Java.
I remember nosing around in various trade fairs in the mid ’90s (e.g. COMDEX Fall ’96), and discovering the stand of the Thomson Consumer Electronics / Sun tie up called OpenTV. A tie up aimed at commercialising Java. OpenTV powered (and still do power) large numbers of satellite STBs. It started off open, but became proprietary. I remember asking the engineers on their stand why certain APIs were missing, to be greeted with slightly sheepish looks over to the sales team brandishing license documents and price lists.
Java had a good crack at the TV market in the late 90s too with the development of DVB-MHP (Digital Video Broadcast Multimedia Home Platform). It is still widely in use, but mainly in STBs.
I can’t help thinking that there is something more fundamental that has to be solved to crack the interactive TV market. The nub of the problem is that pointing and typing are hard to do with a distant 50″ screen. Kinnect + a new OS for gesture UIs (as per finger UIs and iOS), or breaking the pictures behind glass stranglehold on interfaces or some such revolutionary leap is needed before we all start interacting with our TVs all the time.
And I don’t think Java in it’s 3rd attempt at the TV market in 22 years is going to solve that.
Update: 17 April 2012.
Just found a link to a “youTube-on-STB” demo I helped create back in 2007. It uses the WiiMote coupled to a (Mesa) OpenGL GUI running on a Trimedia (TSSA) and MIPS (Linux). Also found my ramblings about “Social Media meets TV” in the same time frame, and the likes of Zattoo, Tioti, Tvcatchup, Blinkx, Brightcove, Facebook, MySpace, Babelgum. Some of these are still around today !
Meanwhile I reckon multi screen apps are going to be the things to watch.