Three years ago, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer gave a keynote presentation at the Consumer Electronics Show where he showed off a Slate PC, the company’s interpretation of a modern-day tablet.It wasn’t anything special, basically just the regular desktop version of Windows 7 running on a big touchscreen device.
A few weeks after Ballmer’s keynote, Steve Jobs introduced the first iPad, the device that truly kicked off the tablet craze and the one that’s still the most popular tablet today.
The subtext here is pretty obvious. Before CES 2010, rumours had been building up about a tablet from Apple. No one knew what to really expect. Would it be the regular Mac software running on a touchscreen? Would it have a DVD drive? Would it cost $1,000? $2,000?
The hype forced the hand of Microsoft and its PC hardware partners, and many cobbled together a bunch of Windows 7 tablet prototypes to show off at CES before Apple could unveil its tablet. Most were vaporware and never launched. And those that did launch did so after the iPad and were largely ignored.
It’s happening again.
CES 2013 starts in a few weeks, and the conference’s big theme is already emerging. Everyone will be talking about Smart TVs, or web-connected sets with streaming video and apps built in.
Samsung recently teased its new take on the future of television, showing photos of its “Smart Hub” interface on the big screen. LG announced a set that runs on Google TV
Expect that to be the centrepiece of Samsung and LG’s CES presentations. And expect to see similar offerings from other TV makers like Panasonic and Sony with interfaces either powered by their own software or Google TV.
Again, it’s obvious what’s going on here. rumours about Apple’s plans for television just won’t die, especially when CEO Tim Cook drops big hints like he recently did in an interview with Brian Williams. Some think it’ll be an actual television set with a radical new interface that can replace the clunky one on your TiVo or the box your cable provider gives you. Some think it’ll be a new box that can turn any TV into an Apple TV. Maybe it’s both.
What we know for sure is Apple is working hard to make the living room its next big thing and that has the competition nervous enough to start cranking Smart TV concepts before Apple can launch its own.
But it’s a dangerous path that can lead to half-baked products that are rushed out just because Big Boy Apple might have plans for a TV later next year.
You’re going to see a lot of hype surrounding Smart TVs during the next three weeks or so. It’s going to be all anyone can talk about in January. Then it’ll fizzle away because the products won’t actually launch for several months. Or they’ll be too expensive. Or the initial reviews and reactions will be horrible. Or all of the above.
Then Apple will release its own take on TV (whether at the end of 2013 or some time in 2014) and everyone will forget the competition even exists.
It’s the Slate PC all over again.
UPDATE: A lot of people seem to think I’m implying Smart TVs are a new thing. They’re not. I know they’re not. What I am saying is that there will be an intense focus on them during CES and in 2013 as Apple prepares its own new TV product. For example, Samsung has been teasing its new TV for weeks.