The Verge’s Nilay Patel with a great overview article on the “war for your living room”:
How is it that you can get a dazzling new smartphone every year with an ever-growing list of features, a better display, and faster networking, but the experience of watching television in your living room remains almost exactly the same as it was five years ago? Why are TV and cable box interfaces so slow and ugly, and why are we still dealing with gigantic ugly cable box remotes festooned with colored buttons?
The answer is simple: the only killer app for TV is TV itself. Granted an almost exclusive monopoly over the most valuable content in the living room, cable and satellite companies have developed their products in a competitive vacuum, insulated from the pace and intensity of innovation that has transformed every other part of the tech industry.
This is true, but the devil’s always in the details. All of these industries have staggering infrastructure costs necessary to get going. Take cable (please, ha ha): getting that signal to you requires laying cable everywhere in your neighborhood, with all the ancillary costs and headaches that implies from right-of-way issues to the parts and labor. If there were two cable companies in your neighborhood instead of just one (and no regulation compelled them to cooperate with one another) they’d each have to duplicate that entire infrastructure system. In practice, that just wouldn’t happen in any but the most densely populated areas. And there is no government-granted monopoly on satellite TV; we have only two choices in the US because it requires the money to put satellites into orbit. Patel is right that cable and satellite companies have been insulated from competition, but that insularity has less to do with regulation than the reality that competing with DirectTV or Comcast is prohibitively expensive.
As it is, I’ve been without cable/satellite for two years now, and I mostly don’t miss it, but I have very little interest in live sports. I’ve realized one big problem with the Apple TV approach, though. An application-centered interface paradigm is fine for a smartphone or tablet, but a television wants a content-centered interface. An icon for every service is passable (although not ideal) for replicating the channel surfing experience, but I want a screen which shows me all my subscriptions and favorites across every service on the device. If I want to answer the question “Are there any new episodes of ‘Castle’” I shouldn’t have to first answer “am I getting ‘Castle’ through iTunes, Hulu, Netflix, or the ABC app”.