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A Smart TV Alliance

TV makers wise up and join forces to nip app fragmentation in the bud.
September 8, 2011

A complaint typically made of Android devices, when compared to iOS devices, is that Android phones and tablets suffer from fragmentation. What this means is that app makers for Droids have to spend a lot of time making sure their apps work across multiple devices. This is annoying, which is why so many developers focus on making iOS apps intead–and why Apple’s App Store flourishes in ways that Android’s does not.

This fragmentation object lesson can be applied to another sort of device just beginning to get “smart”–TVs. Apple may or may not have plans to develop its own television. But in the meantime, it couldn’t hurt for TV makers to start imagining themselves as being part of an ecosystem that might someday compete with Apple, or someone else who creates a monolithic, “walled garden,” Apple-like experience.

Smart TV makers LG, Philips, and Sharp have made a, well, smart decision to join forces to stop Android-style fragmentation before it starts. The three manufacturers recently announced that they would be teaming up to make a sort of “open-app alliance,” one ensuring that certain standards will reign across devices made by all three. “LG, Philips and Sharp have agreed to work together to define common technical requirements for their Smart TVs, based upon open standards such as HTML5, CE-HTML and HbbTV,” ran the announcement. (HTML5 is the emerging standard for the language the world wide web is written in; CE-HTML is a language for creating user interfaces on TVs; and HbbTV is a European initiative meant to integrate TV’s two delivery mechanisms, broadcast and broadband.)

The first step is to put out a beta version of a Software Development Kit, or SDK, by October. Said LG CEO Havis Kown: “This cooperation is nothing less than a watershed in the brief history of Smart TVs. By working in partnership with two innovators in TVs, we’ve taken a major step towards creating an app market every bit as inventive and dynamic as the one that exists for smartphones.”

It’s a self-serving statement, of course–but it might also happen to be true. Smart TVs aren’t yet ubiquitous, but it may only be a matter of time. (For more basics, CNET has a good rundown on the ABCs of Smart TVs.) Even if you don’t own a set-top box, odds are you already employ some aspects of a smart TV experience to your viewing habits–whether it’s by streaming Netflix through your PlayStation, or just viewing shows on demand through your cable provider. Services like these are likely to all converge in the television itself, in the long run, with apps integrated into the set rather than an assortment of attached devices. And when that happens, consumers will be likely to gravitate to the manufacturers who have laid the foundations for the most successful app ecosystem.

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