A funny thing will soon happen to your TV remote: Not only will it get smarter and more usable, but it will also soon feel more natural to use. With controls based on gestures rather than directional buttons, the new controls will change the way viewers find and interact with content.
Think about the way the computer business changed after moving to a graphical user interface. For most people my age, the first experience with point and click probably came in the school computer lab, where Apple educational discounts led a whole generation to interact with menus, applications and folders with the click of a mouse. (Even back then, Apple was trying to nab users early in life.) By comparison, the control menu and cursor-based navigation of MS-DOS seemed prehistoric.
The adoption of graphical user interfaces for display and the mouse for control fundamentally changed not just how people used their computers, but opened up new applications and capabilities that previously weren’t available. The same type of revolution is soon to be underway on the television, as a new generation of remote controls and mobile apps are changing the way viewers discover, navigate and interact with content.
The latest indication of the evolving market came with the launch of Hillcrest Labs’ newest portfolio of products for CE manufacturers Wednesday. The release of its Motion Engine and Sensor Modules can be introduced into the hardware products that they make, and the company’s new Scoop pointer, which replaces the consumer-facing Loop product, will also be offered to manufacturers. The announcements come after Hillcrest raised $5.5 million earlier this year.
Most consumers got their first taste of point-and-click navigation and gesture-based controls with the launch of the Nintendo Wii. The Wii remote revolutionized gaming and opened up a whole new realm of possibilities for the console market, as it brought intuitive motion control into play. Later, Microsoft took the concept of gesture-based navigation a step further with Xbox Kinect, allowing users to grab, control and swipe through their content with the motion-control system.
Most recently, streaming set-top box maker Roku unveiled a new controller that includes Hillcrest Labs’ motion-sensing technology. Right now, that controller is used primarily for a new generation of casual gaming apps — like Angry Birds — that have been introduced on its boxes, but we could imagine its use being extended to controlling app navigation with an update to its outdated UI.
Meanwhile, the introduction of motion sensors and accelerometers in mobile handsets has introduced a whole new world of interactive gaming and augmented reality for iOS and Android devices. Users are becoming comfortable with the use of mobile phones and tablets for controlling their TV sets, and iPad and iPhone apps with remote functionality built in have become increasingly popular among operators like Comcast, AT&T, Verizon and Cablevision.
While the greatest utility from these mobile apps is often the ability to search content through touch-based mobile keyboards, they also offer up their own point-and-click navigation capability. That enables operators not just to display the same boring old program grid that shows up through their TV set-top box, but to develop more interactive guides and user experiences.
Changing the TV remote to be gesture-based will open up more interactive experiences on the TV. No longer trapped by the up-down-left-right navigation that comes from traditional remotes, operators will be able to create improved user interfaces. Finally, being able to point and click on the TV screen could also allow broadcasters and advertisers to create more immersive applications as part of their shows and advertisements.