I’d previously claimed that in a few decades, TV as we know it may become a thing of the past. But it’s possible that what may really become a thing of the past is the desktop computer.
Already laptops serve many of the same purposes for a lot cheaper and with a lot more portability, with desktops’ only advantage being the ability to play video games, where they’ve long competed and lost to console systems. But we’re fast redefining what it means to be a “computer”. As the iPad proved, today’s “phones” are really miniature computers, and many of today’s “TVs” are also starting to redefine what that is.
Last night I posted that our house finally got HD earlier this year. Since then, we’ve added a Sony Blu-Ray player with Google TV functionality to our repertoire. HD will not change the way you see TV appreciably; Google TV (and its competitors like Apple TV) definitely will. Google TV’s main feature is the ability to search for programs using a text-message-like keyboard, but that’s just the start of it. It comes with a version of Google Chrome, allowing you to surf the Internet on your TV. It also can support a wide variety of the same apps that run on an Android phone. On the same TV you watch March Madness on, you can also send tweets and update Facebook, catch up on your favorite blogs, watch some YouTube videos, even download movies and TV shows from Netflix.
Someday, I predict that every home will have something that looks like a TV but is really a computer, capable of running apps, playing games, and connecting to the Internet. Much of what falls under the domain of “watching TV” now will instead involve a trip to YouTube or hitching onto some sort of stream. Everything will still be available in crystal-clear HD quality, assuming it was made with that quality. The TV, desktop computer, and video game console will effectively be merged into a single unit (video game consoles are increasingly adding Internet access and other smart-TV-like functions). It will be the most powerful form of computer, supplemented by portable tablets and smartphones. Laptop computers will be retained by employers and educational facilities for the productivity software, but that may change if cloud-based solutions like Google Docs prove popular, since they can conceivably run on the “TV”.
This explains why Microsoft is overhauling its venerable Windows operating system to match its johnny-come-lately Windows Phone system. Mobile OS’s are fast becoming more important than old-fashioned desktop operating systems, as evidenced by Google TV’s patterning itself on Android. The business world may soon approach an inflection point as the old-fashioned keyboard and mouse undergo a revolution. Mouses may even come to be seen as quaint and old-fashioned as touchpads on laptops and smart TVs and touchscreens on smartphones and tablets supplant the mouse’s old breeding grounds, the desktop computer.
The television industry is not particularly friendly to this shift; Web sites affiliated with television networks have blocked access to their content from Google TV and its competitors. (Cable companies are also lukewarm, perhaps because they don’t want to cannibalize their current “on demand” offerings.) Given that they’re obviously not blocking their content from any other browser, the only explanation I can think of is that they’re worried no one will have a reason to watch their regular, linear channel, with its greater number of ads, if they can watch the same thing on the same device through another avenue; like everyone else I called out in Part I, the television industry is being dragged kicking and screaming into the inevitable future, not wanting to give up their current business models. But in doing so, they may be digging their own grave, for within a couple of decades, the very avenue they’re trying to block may be the regular channel.