Are Smartphones the New TV OS?

A new way to view the living room TV wars.

Mari Silbey, Senior Editor, Cable/Video

February 29, 2016

2 Min Read
Are Smartphones the New TV OS?

Despite efforts to the contrary, the market for a TV operating system is still as fragmented as ever.

Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL) introduced its new tvOS last fall, but has seemingly done little to nurture the platform or the developer ecosystem since. Inc. (Nasdaq: AMZN) is clearly pushing further into the TV space, but its focus has primarily been on new devices and original programming. Roku Inc. continues to make progress though new partnerships with both TV manufacturers and pay-TV operators, but it's perpetually on shaky ground because, well, it's not Apple or Amazon. (See Apple Brings tvOS to Apple TV and Roku Racks Up 7.6M in Monthly Active Users.)

And then there's Google (Nasdaq: GOOG).

Google is hedging its bets with the Android TV platform and the Chromecast streaming device. But while Android TV seems the more natural evolution of TV's on-screen interface, it's the Chromecast connection to smartphones that's piqued consumer interest. Now, according to a report by Variety, Google wants to take the casting approach a step further by embedding Chromecast functionality directly into TV sets. Specifically, Google has reportedly partnered with Vizio Inc. to build Chromecast features into Vizio TVs.

What an odd turn of events. Despite the opportunity to build a whole new foundation in the living room, Google seems to be finding it easier to bridge back to the mobile phone ecosystem rather than develop something tailor-made for the TV. And clearly it's not alone.

For more on TV market trends, check out our dedicated video services content channel here on Light Reading.

As cited above, no company has cracked the code on a winning TV OS. This is in large part because pay-TV still dominates television viewing, and the operating systems in that market, like Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK)'s X1, are largely closed ecosystems. (This issue, by the way, not hardware, is to me the biggest thing at stake in the Unlock the Box initiative. See 'Unlock the Box' Vote Is Just the Beginning.)

But it's also because the mobile phone OS market has already neatly sorted itself out. My apologies to Windows Phone and Blackberry fans, but the mobile world breaks down solidly into two camps: iOS and Android. Both Apple and Google have tried to extend those ecosystems into the newer connected TV environment, but momentum is clearly behind development in the mobile space. That's where the coveted millennial demographic spends its time, and where developers already have experience building software.

In an ideal world, maybe it would be better to have a purpose-built television OS. But in the real world, mobile may yet win the TV OS wars… or at least keep the television software market from consolidating a while longer.

— Mari Silbey, Senior Editor, Cable/Video, Light Reading

About the Author(s)

Mari Silbey

Senior Editor, Cable/Video

Mari Silbey is a senior editor covering broadband infrastructure, video delivery, smart cities and all things cable. Previously, she worked independently for nearly a decade, contributing to trade publications, authoring custom research reports and consulting for a variety of corporate and association clients. Among her storied (and sometimes dubious) achievements, Mari launched the corporate blog for Motorola's Home division way back in 2007, ran a content development program for Limelight Networks and did her best to entertain the video nerd masses as a long-time columnist for the media blog Zatz Not Funny. She is based in Washington, D.C.

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