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Why I don’t use Smart TV web applications

The LA Times posted an article this week about the limited use web applications receive from smart TVs. I have two smart TVs and until my recent trial of the Amazon Prime service, I had only glanced at the TV application menu. I fall right in line with the majority of people that don’t use the applications.SmartTV

Here’s why.

The TV app menu has a limited selection of applications.
My TVs have 7-8 applications available. Both have YouTube. One has Netflix, the other Amazon Prime. One has Twitter. The experience is underwhelming since I’m used to a tablet or smart phone with a wide range of applications. There isn’t an app store on my TV so what I see is what I get unless they force some additional apps via the updates.

The TV app menu is slow to navigate.
It takes some time to navigate the user interface (UI) and load the applications on my TV. While the processor speed is responsible for a part of this lag, most of it is because I have to use the remote control to essentially tab through the choices; No mouse and no touch screen equals slower navigation.

The TV can be used easily as a second screen to portable devices such as tablets or laptops.
It’s not too difficult to use a TV-screen as a second screen for computing equipment these days. This gives users full access to the applications on their computing device. I know this type of hookup is a technical chore that may keep most people from doing it. But I suspect the same people that would use a TV application are the same people that would hookup the TV to a portable device. In that case, why would the limit themselves to the smaller selection of TV apps?

The service years of a TV outlasts the typical computing device.
Many people update their computing every three to four years. But TVs can last much longer than that. It doesn’t appear the TV manufacturer’s are building in a good way to update their web application menus. So they quickly become dated. This hurts usage because consumers will gravitate to their more modern computing device.

So what should TV manufacturer’s do about this? Should they stop making Smart TVs? How can they compete with streaming services like Apple TV, Slingbox, and Google TV? I think part of this answer is to make the experience of the TV closer to the experience on other computing devices. Run the application service on a variation of open source software such as Android. Get access to an app store. Don’t expect the consumers to change their behavior, but find a way to more closely mimic what the consumers already use. That sounds like a smart move.

My Amazon Prime 30 Day Trial Experience

Why I tried Amazon Prime.

I have a small obsession in my life; I want to ditch the monthly cable bill. The problem is, the other members in my family enjoy the cable service and want to keep it. So my quest for a lower monthly alternative to television programming continues year-after-year. To be fair, they consume more video content than I do. I’m sure the TV industry is thankful that my television consumption habits are in the minority. My family likes current programming offered by the networks and cable channels. They use both the cable on-demand service as well as a DVR to record content.

My latest test was the Amazon Prime service. At the end of the first 48 hours my kids told me they didn’t see any value in the service and my wife reminded me that she was right (again). She had told me before that Amazon Prime is intended to serve as a video supplement to television programming, not a replacement of the primary content source. Based on her expectations and viewing habits, I’ll say I have to agree with her.amazon-prime.jpg

To review the service I used several devices:

* A Samsung TV via ethernet hookup Amazon Prime App
* A Sony DVD player via ether hookup and Amazon Prime App
* An iPad
* A PC

 The Good.

The Amazon Prime annual fee is $79 and includes three services:

1. Free 2-day shipping on purchases
2. Free video streaming for select content
3. Access to the Kindle lending library

The shipping fee scales well for high volume internet purchasers. If standard delivery is typically around $6 then you would break-even after 13 or so purchases while getting a faster delivery. (Read how Amazon prime is very profitable for Amazon). I didn’t sign-up for the trial based on the shipping feature, but for many consumers this is the primary draw to the service. We did take advantage of the free shipping with a few purchases during our trial period. But in general I don’t purchase items online where I have to have 2-day delivery over standard shipping. I’m content to have standard delivery. Associating the 2-day delivery service with Prime is a brilliant marketing program and is generating millions in profits for Amazon.

At $79/year that is $6.58/month which is better than NetFlix at $7.99/month. Plus you get more with the Amazon subscription. To be fair to Netflix, should compare content libraries. But, agreements with studios aside, the services are similar.

I own a Kindle and do occasionally purchase books from Amazon for it. I also use my public library from time-to-time. I like this feature as an alternative to buying books that I’ll read once and probably never touch again.

The quality of the content on the high definition streaming was excellent. I had minimal issues with disruptions of the stream.

There were no commercials for television content. We streamed an episode of Grimm Season 1 commercial free to test for this. Similar to mindset of a paid music subscription, consumers expect if they are paying for the service then they can see it advertisment-free.

It is possible to start consuming content on one device, pause it, and then resume on another device.

The Bad.

Most of the videos included with Prime are old. Maybe that’s the point. Is this just suppose to be a digital library? If so it’s certainly better than buying videos, watching them once or twice and then sticking them on a shelf. But if you are looking for recent movies like what you find at Red Box, they are not included as part of the Prime subscription. You can buy or rent those movies for additional fees.amazon-prime2

Access to television shows are tied-up with network contracts. I went to see a season 1 episode of NCIS from 2003. The only option is to buy episodes. Yet Grimm Season 1 from 2011 is available for free streaming for Amazon Prime members. Access to same season episodes is available for purchase. I should note that we can get access to current television programming via the cable on-demand service.This single limitation is the main reason why Amazon Prime isn’t a cable replacement alternative for my other family members.

I was able to define a watch-list using my computer for content that I wanted to queue for later viewing. But the two TV devices I have don’t show the watch-list from their console. It appears this is for computing devices only.

The Ugly.

The Samsung TV and Sony DVD player GUI is a bit clumsy and slow. I found the best way to get something was to just type it in the search box. The Samsung TV interface was extremely sluggish on response time. This may have more to do with the age of the equipment.

Some closing thoughts.

Could this replace cable TV? For me yes. I don’t watch much television programming and if I want to see something current then I can typically find it on the web site of the provider. But I couldn’t help thinking that services like this change the model of video consumption. It’s not as easy to “channel surf” with no real goal in mind. In most cases you have to make a deliberate decision to watch content because changing content takes longer than changing channels.

I think the financials of Amazon Prime are a good consumer deal if you are willing to lock into Amazon for your retail purchases. My experience is that this is not a bad thing because for commodity items, Amazon often has the lowest or close to the lowest pricing. The shipping component for purchases is the way to get payed back for the subscription fee. The free video content is just an extra nice-to-have, and should not be a primary consideration of paying the subscription.

I’ll most likely cancel the service before the 30 day trial completes. It didn’t satisfy my video content needs (getting rid of cable) and I don’t know that I want to lock into the Amazon retail experience to feel like I’m paying myself back for the subscription price.

My war against the cable television bill continues…