Intel and Yahoo Look to Widgetize the Living Room Web

This morning at the Intel Developer Forum, Intel and Yahoo announced a joint initiative to bring Internet widgets to TV. The two companies are teaming up in an effort they believe may help jump-start the nascent living-room-web market, which up to this point has seen a lot of products, but very little consumer adoption.

Perhaps the most interesting part of the announcement is the insistence by both companies that OEMs who sign up to put the widget channel (Intel’s name for the product) on their box must offer the consumer access to all of the widgets in the gallery. The gallery, which will be managed by Yahoo, will offer services by any company that uses the widget platform. Conceptually, it’s hard to get one’s mind around the concept of having a service provider set-top box that offers a whole host of widgets to stream third-party web services, but conceivably that’s a scenario that could be realized.

While the two companies are clearly very different in terms of product and style, both are aiming to extend their strengths in the PC web into the TV domain. For Intel, the move is part of a broader push into the consumer electronics space, a market which they believe today is largely built around processors with limited application overhead and little or no connectivity to the Internet. Yahoo, for its part, is looking to replicate the success it has had taking its brand onto the handset, where Yahoo widgets and the Go portal client software have been successful.

This announcement was part of a trio of initiatives announced by Erik Kim, senior VP and general manager of Intel’s Digital Home group. Kim announced a new chip, the CE3100 (known up to now as Canmore), an Intel Architecture-based chip targeted at embedded systems, such as an Internet connected Blu-ray player. He also announced a support network of various middleware and driver developers to create software that will jump-start Intel’s efforts to develop Internet-connected CE boxes. Intel hopes these efforts will, in turn, help it elbow its way into other connected entertainment devices (the first generation of which use primarily MIPS-based processors from Sigma Designs and Broadcom).

For Yahoo, it’s a coming out of sorts for its Connected TV group, which is part of the larger Connected Life group, responsible for the success of Yahoo Go and its widget platform. The company believes the living room is the next great opportunity in the web space, one which has thus far seen a lack of any open approach to get content on the TV. They’re right in that regard, given that most of the current crop of Internet streaming boxes are largely limited to one or two web services as part of a walled-garden offering

ABI Research sees this as a continuing trend to push HTML and web services engines into consumer electronics products. Intel and Yahoo follow commercial browser vendors Opera and ACCESS, who have targeted the CE space, while Adobe is also eyeing the living room web with its Flash and AIR runtime through its Open Screen Project. We are seeing recent momentum for Java stacks in CE devices and set-tops through Blu-ray and Tru2way.

All of these software platforms incorporate the ability to deliver web content onto a TV screen. With this announcement, Intel and Yahoo hope we move the living room web from a closed, walled-garden market to one more like the PC web.

Mike Wolf is the Director of Digital Home Research for ABI Research and writes about Internet Video and other topics. He also blogs occasionally between report deadlines on Internet TV and other topics here.

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