When I was growing up, my parents referred to the television as the "idiot box" or the "boob tube" because of its power to sap my ability to do anything other than stare blankly into its cathode glow. But the TV-viewing experience is undergoing a transformation as new levels of connectivity bring with them an assortment of applications designed to make watching TV a whole lot more active.
Recently, Vizio announced that it is bringing Twitter and Facebook functionality to its TV sets. Yahoo's widget engine offers access to weather, Flickr photos, and eBay. In the meantime, Cablevision is linking its TV and phone services so that when your phone rings, the show you're watching can be paused.
The thought of all these new features junking up a TV screen was enough to make my colleague Om title one of his recent posts, "Sometimes a TV Should Just Be a TV". But most of the readers who responded to our query about whether people really want widgets on their TVs said yes, and preliminary research from TDG earlier this year echoes that sentiment. According to TDG's numbers, 76% of consumers think having a widget toolbar on their primary TV set would be valuable.
I'm inclined to agree, but instead of the standard widgets that give me stock information or allow me to order a movie on Netflix, here are five apps I would love to have on my television:
The Who Is That? App: This should be a no-brainer; it's for all those times when there's a recognizable face in a show, but I just can't quite place it. Use facial recognition—or even just bring up the performer's IMDB page with a selection of photos.
The Buy This Song App: When a cool song comes on during a program, rather than waiting until the end to read in the credits whose it is, this widget would tell me who performed it and give me the option to purchase it right then and there. Bonus points for tying it to my music library so it's waiting for me the next time I fill up my iPod.
The Watch With Friends App: As noted earlier, this one's already being done—and not just by Vizio. Verizon will also offer Twitter and Facebook through its FiOS TV, and Microsoft is incorporating social aspects into its Xbox 360 video experience. Like we saw during the inauguration (http://newteevee.com/2009/01/20/facebook-cnn-is-future-of-tv/) earlier this year, there are times when technology can help people far apart share in a moment together.
The Play Along App: I'm not a huge game-show watcher, but it would be fun if instead of just shouting Jeopardy answers at Alex Trebek, I could play along and keep tabs as to how well I'm doing. Microsoft is working on something similar to this with the game show 1 vs. 100.
The What Should I Wear? App: Jerry Seinfeld once quipped that he didn't care what the temperature was, he just wanted to know what to wear. I'm in the same boat. This widget would tell me whether or not I need to bring a jacket (though since I'm in San Francisco, the answer would always be yes).