Developers Struggle to Build Ideal Apps for Every Smart TV

Developers face significant challenges in creating apps for smart TVs due to the large number of devices. Most manufacturers have their own platforms, with limited compatibility among them. TV makers are beginning to simplify the programming process by adopting HTML5, while bringing an app to multiple platforms still requires significant resources. Netflix devotes major resources to creating its apps, but few may be able to follow their example.

“There is an explosion of competing platforms,” suggests Lucas Gonze, formerly in charge of smart TV apps at MOG music subscription service. “There is going to be a shakeout,” and “there are going to be a couple of winners and a lot of losers.”

Netflix has a successful cross-device app, and has dealt with the varying devices by tweaking each app for each platform. The company devotes large numbers of developers for app production, with three teams for smart TV interface alone and others working on the more than 800 devices that run the Netflix app.

Many developers are prioritizing on which device platform to build their app, with major consideration on whether the end user will connect their device to the Internet. Users of streaming digital media receivers such as Roku are more likely to stream Internet content, in contrast to a typically smart TV buyer that may only use it as a non-Internet connected device.

Developers need to be aware of differences in using apps on TVs, such as screen size, viewing distance and viewing orientation, explains GigaOM. Another consideration is screen navigation, computer and mobile device users navigate on their devices in much different and precise ways with a mouse, trackpad or touch. While TV navigation is usually done with a simple up-down, left-right remote control.

Google’s YouTube is also investing in research into smart TV viewing, and is redesigning its smart TV app, and researching into its users’ viewing behaviors. YouTube realized that the TV is a shared viewing device, and with multiple users viewing it at the same time, app design and functionality must be considered.

A recurring observation comes from developers, who suggest that the TV is not a computing device, with most viewers looking for entertainment, not interaction. “TV is not a tool. TV is a purpose,” said Gonze. “You use it to flake out and let it saturate you, have that experience and let it do the work.”

The three-part series:
Making TVs Smart: Why Most Smart TVs Still Feel Pretty Dumb, GigaOM, 7/31/13
Making TVs Smart: Why TV App Developers Struggle to Succeed in the Living Room, GigaOM, 8/1/13
Making TVs Smart: Why Google and Netflix Want to Reinvent the Remote Control, GigaOM, 8/2/13