Smart TV and text input

There was a lot of talk about smart TV at the Intellect Consumer Electronics conference last week. Much of the talk was about exciting ways of connecting boxes together. There was far less about how to deliver an experience that consumers will in fact want.

It won’t be sufficient to deliver “everything we love about TV and about the internet on one screen”. Existing content models (web and linear TV) won’t be sufficient to drive consumers to connected TV systems.

To provide a truly immersive user experience, we need new models of content and new interfaces. And that in turn means we need new hardware and software.

What sort of new content? Well, it’s unlikely simply to be a Twitter feed scrolling underneath a linear programme. And it’s even less likely to be email or banking, which are too complex for a lean back environment (never mind the privacy issues). “Social” TV content may well play a part so that we can share our thoughts about programming with our friends and like minded people. More interesting though will be new ways of enabling people to “participate” in content – through games, voting and even choice.

We’ll need to see new interfaces too. For instance inputting text from 3 meters away is difficult with a pointing device or other remote control. Standards to make text imput (essential to many interactions) easy are required. There are at least some ways of reducing the problems here.

At Amberlight we have recently run a small research project looking at this area. A few general guidelines for text input were developed:

1. Predictive text systems make users of smart TV applications much more efficient
2. Search results can be used very effecively to promote serendipity and content discovery
3. Showing people an interactive A to Z grid of letters (as opposed to a querty keyboard) is the best way of promoting efficient text entry
4. The whole system, including the remote control, should be simplified as far as possible in order to promote use: Apple TV scores really well in this regard
5. Viewers should be able to control the cursor on the screen via the remote control; as much flexibility as possible should be given to them to do this
6. Viewers should be able to edit text, including adding and deleting words, as easily as possible: cursor control helps with this
7. People should not be forced to read a lot of text as they are likely to ignore it
8. Plain and simple English should be used in all labels and instructions

No doubt over time we will see more extensive guidelines being developed for text input and many other aspects of smart TV. The industry is still learning. What is important though is that hardware manuracturers, service providers and programme makers don’t assume that technology will solve all the issues. Keeping an eye on the consumer will be pretty important too!