CES Marks Year of the Touch Screen

Jan 11, 2009  •  Post A Comment

The intuitive displays and Web connectivity of the iPhone are influencing the design of television sets.
Some of the biggest and flashiest TV displays at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas last week seemed to channel the spirit of the iPhone, and the new gadgets reflect another step toward the convergence of TV and the Web that media companies have been bracing for.
Programmers such as NBC Universal and Sony, Web giants like Yahoo and software leaders like Microsoft all demonstrated touch-screen technologies popularized by the iPhone. And Disney-ABC Television Group President Anne Sweeney extolled the virtues of the iPhone during her keynote speech at CES, detailing the applications she uses on the handheld, such as a weather function and a stock tracker.
“One of the reasons so many of us have iPhones and iPods is Apple gets this fundamental fact—the user interface is intuitive, it’s user-friendly and it’s easy to personalize your experience,” she said.
At Core of Event
While Apple didn’t exhibit at the show, its presence was felt virtually everywhere on the floor, especially in the new generation of TV sets on display.
“They’re living monitors,” said Lori Schwartz, senior VP and director of the Interpublic Emerging Media Lab, who led TelevisionWeek on a tour of the Microsoft and Sony booths at the show.
The latest version of Sony’s Internet-connected Bravia set includes Internet capability in the set itself. Last year’s version still required a separate set-top box to hook up with the Web. With a Bravia, a viewer can watch traditional TV as well as Web programming from the Sony-owned online video site Crackle.com, the Minisode Network, blip.tv, YouTube and other Web services.
“Everything is an Internet device now,” Ms. Schwartz said, adding that most of the TV sets she’d seen at CES come with Internet capability for the first time.
Over at the Yahoo booth, the Internet search service demonstrated “widgets” on Internet-ready TV sets from Toshiba, LG and Samsung. Widgets, modules that display content boxed within other programming, are being developed by programmers such as CBS and Showtime and Web services including Flickr and YouTube. Those widgets can be accessed on TVs. The widget usually will appear in a rectangular overlay on about one-third of the TV screen, and most look like iPhones in layout and design.
“The promise of widgets is companies can create an experience that looks the same across platforms,” said Greg Clayman, executive VP of digital distribution at MTV Networks. “We’re learning that people want a clean and simple look and feel, like Apple has done.”
NBC Universal also is playing off some of the best traits of the iPhone, though it’s using Microsoft’s Windows Vista as a technology partner. The media company showcased its programs on a coffee table boasting a fully interactive touch screen that lets users start, stop and play various programs with the touch of a finger. In a few years, the clunky casino-style table could morph into a touch-screen interactive television set for the living room.
“The whole digital revolution is about user control,” said J.B. Perrette, president of digital distribution at NBC Universal.
Microsoft said at CES that the next version of Windows, including Media Center PCs, will include a touch-screen interface that includes TV programming.
Amid the new product rollouts, the specter of the recession hung over the show. A Forrester study released this week found 50% of consumers saying they’re less likely to buy a new high-definition TV set this year.
However, with more Internet content being embedded into TV sets themselves, consumers could choose to ditch cable or satellite service as their cost-saving measure and get their programming solely via the Internet, Ms. Schwartz said.
While companies face reduced resources and slashed budgets in 2009, the pressure still is on to innovate, Mr. Perrette said. Those that don’t will show up at next year’s CES in tougher shape, he said.


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