In recent days, an announcement from Google and a detailed Apple rumor from Engadget tell us that smartphone apps will soon be coming to our smart TVs. Superficially, this sounds like a cool idea, but the more I think about it the less I get it. And the reason is user interfaces.
Faithful readers know that I have railed for a long time against attempts to add a thin layer of gesture support to a mouse-and-keyboard interface and think that you have a touch device. This has been a fundamental flaw in Microsoft’s Tablet PC efforts, even with the much improved touch support in Windows 7. There will never be a good Windows tablet or slate until Microsoft fundamentally rethinks the interface and builds touch support deep into the UI, and the applications are rewritten for touch as well.
But the fact is that it doesn;t make any more sense to take what is fundamentally a touch-based UI, like the iPhone OS or Android, and expect it to work with a pointer device (its true that Android phones have a D-pad or track ball, but I don;t know anyone who uses them much.) Touch just isn’t going to work on a TV. Even a free-space pointing device, such as the Hillcrest Labs Loop, is not a great substitute for hands-on in an interface designed for touch. A conventional remote would be a nightmare.
In that context, it is just foolishness to say that all Android or iPhone apps will work on these new TV systems. A few might, but especially on the iPhone and iPad, touch runs deep into the soul of most apps. I have a prize for the first person who succeeds at Harbor Master played with a remote.