How electronics firms are rebooting smart TVs
TOKYO -- Electronics companies are launching "smart televisions," a new type of TV set equipped with smartphone operating systems to provide services comparable to those available through smartphones.
For example, smart TVs enable users to enjoy services such as access to the Internet and playing video games. It is also possible for individual users to install additional applications on their smart TVs, meaning they can customize the services they use according to their needs, just as with smartphones.
The new technology from the electronics makers is intended to offer consumers new methods for enjoying services on TV. By doing so, these manufacturers hope to turn around their embattled TV production businesses, according to observers.
In late May, Panasonic Corp. started selling a new 4K ultrahigh-definition TV equipped with the Firefox operating system in the domestic market. The Firefox OS has been developed by U.S. software company Mozilla. In late June, Sony Corp. will also launch a smart TV built on Google's OS, Android, in the domestic market.
Meanwhile, Sharp Corp. plans to launch a smart TV only in North America.
One feature of smart TVs is the ease of installing new applications, including video games and health-monitoring programs, besides conventional functions such as showing TV broadcasts.
For example, with a cooking application, a user can cook a meal while looking at the recipe displayed on the TV screen.
While these things can already be done with smartphones or other tablet devices, electronics companies believe that consumers who have not used such services, such as the elderly, can more easily access them with TVs, which are a more familiar home appliance to many people.
"We will change a TV from a thing people use casually to something that satisfies their curiosities," said Hiroshi Kawano, president of Sony Marketing Inc.
The electronics industry has had bitter experiences with smart TVs. In 2010, Sony and Google jointly launched the Google TV, which had Internet connectivity.
However, the product was not user-friendly, taking a long time to start up, and had other drawbacks. As a result, Google TV failed.
Other companies countered the move with products made to their own specifications, but the services available for those TVs did not increase in number and therefore smart TVs did not become widespread.
"They became TVs that were like a personal computer, and were not user-friendly," a senior official at one electronics maker said.
With recent developments, the companies have improved the user-friendliness of their smart TVs by such measures as making it possible for customers to use a touch-screen remote control similar to a smartphone, and speeding up the start up times of applications, hoping to make another attempt to increase adoption of smart TVs.
In addition, how they differentiate their products from smartphones and tablet devices offering similar services will likely be key to the spread of smart TVs.