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Connected TVs face platform fragmentation as critical challenge

Connected television is predicted to break into the mainstream soon with over 220 million smart TV sets set to be sold worldwide in 2017, up from the 54 million that will be sold this year, according to Informa Telecoms & Media's latest smart-TV device forecasts.

However, big obstacles in terms of platform fragmentation and replacement cycles will prevent the sets from commanding the centre point for the digital home any time soon.

These numbers are promising for apps developers and consumer electronics manufacturers, but the success is not going to be enough to overtake the lead that games consoles and media-streaming devices, including set-tops like Apple TV and Roku, have in the market, Informa predicts.

The researchers said that 31% of households worldwide will own at least one smart TV in five years' time, with household penetration much higher in North America (63%) and Western Europe (64%). However, with their long life cycles, TVs are simply not the right device to be the hub of the digital home, the company said.

"Informa estimates that in 2017 more than half of the 800 million smart TV sets by that time will only be used as dumb screens," said Andrew Ladbrook, senior analyst at Informa Telecoms & Media. "Moreover, while any 'smart' TV bought in 2011 or 2012 can be used for streaming online video services for a few years, they lack the processing power and the necessary hardware to perform those smart TV functions that will be standard in 2015. Simply put, any smart TV purchased in 2012 will be effectively obsolete by 2015."

Instead, devices that are regularly replaced, including smartphones, tablets, set-top boxes, media streamers and games consoles, will be the key devices in the digital home experience. Smartphones in particular, with their short lifecycles and rapidly increasing processor power, will continue to define what 'smart' means, the analyst reasons.

The manufacturers' short-term support for their smart TV products will also prove a hindrance. New services will continue to be launched solely on the latest smart TV models – HBO GO, Skype, Onlive, BBC's Sport app – which means that users who bought last year's device are excluded. Apps cannot be easily released across multiple devices, since each smart TV platform demands bespoke development.
Thus, the fragmentation of platforms and standards continues to plague the smart TV market. This situation benefits the current market leaders Samsung and LG as they attract the top services first due to their strong positions. And, while Informa believes that Google TV or Android will come to be the default OS for smart TVs, this is still some years away.

"If TVs are going to be truly smart, they must do more than offer a wide variety of online video services," Ladbrook said. "Instead they must add advanced functionality including voice control, motion control, advanced advertising, attractive user interfaces and two-way communications with other smart devices – so-called 'second screens' – allowing these devices to send video to the TV and also know what is being watched. Manufacturers should focus less on adding more content and more on improving how users can interact with that content."

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