Thinking Outside A Box ... Any Box
Sergey Brin: Why Google Glass? [Source:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IessjPY9gwI]
The exception to the rule that electronic devices get smaller as the technology proliferates is nowhere more apparent than in the world of television. What began in the mid-20th century as a tiny screen fueled by vacuum tubes is now a sophisticated device that merits a so-called "home theatre" in many households. Why go to the movies when you have a TV in your den that's the size of a commercial movie screen?
Advances in Web technology are finally making TV hardware fall more in line with the path that its other electronic entertainment counterparts have taken: streaming video to the relatively smaller, cheaper screen of a smartphone. (Even just a few weeks ago, Samsung announced plans to sell a "smart wristwatch.") This development builds upon an exciting innovation that already has been with us for a few years: OTT (or Over The Top) television. It's a fancy way of saying that you won't require a cable or satellite dish, much less an antenna, to enjoy live broadcasts.
Most of us weren't thinking of an OTT format even as recently as five years ago. It's because when we think of TV, we invariably think of the hardware first and then the content. The simple fact of the matter is that we're not that far removed from the debut of television in the mid-20th century as far as hardware is concerned. A box is a box, even if it means a sleek, flat screen.
Bring in what I like to call the genie in the bottle. As informed consumers, we're ready to let this genie out of the bottle. I hope we get more than just three wishes, but if we don't, one will be the ability to watch your favorite shows without a screen. This technological advancement is not so much about the next new thing as it is the absence of something; namely, hardware. Imagine a television without a box or screen, projected wherever the user finds it most convenient. Plus, we can summon our make-believe genie to produce, say, a news program with a verbal command.
Don't think this is possible? Check out what Google is already doing with its wearable computing platform, Google Glass: http://www.google.com/glass/start/what-it-does/. Without having to unfold a map or take your eyes off the road, the wearable device gives you directions in a visual tableau that compliments and therefore doesn't detract from what you're already viewing. So if you can see a map in the air without having a screen in front of you, why not watch TV without having a TV box?
Innovators are already re-thinking the meaning of hardware, especially as it relates to human physiology. The visible world in front of us can be a screen of sorts if a wearable platform like eyeglasses or a wristwatch places images in front of us in such a way that no additional external box is required. In German, the word for television is "der Fernseher." The literal translation into English is "something that can see a far-away image." Wearable computing platforms are offering the exciting proposition that the image you are seeing is immediate and close, even if the program originates in a TV studio on the other side of the planet. Might the Germans need a new word for this technology a few years from now?
It's only a matter of time, I think, when I'll be able to say something to the effect of: "Genie, I want to watch Anderson 360." And voila, the program appears, without a box, in front of me. Of course, this is all part of a larger trend of convergence, where people won't need separate pieces of hardware for separate functions.
I was reading in the news recently that Jeff Bezos, the innovative chairman of Amazon, wowed employees of the Washington Post when he visited their newsroom for the first time. (Bezos used part of his personal fortune to buy the venerable newspaper.) One of the items the reporters were tweeting was all the guessing going on as to how many pieces of communications hardware Bezos carries with him. It's a fascinating question given the fact that the Amazon founder is more likely to be ahead of the convergence curve.
One day the answer to the speculation about the amount of electronic communications hardware that innovators carry around will be one ... or none. And it's quite interesting that Bezos purchased a media property that includes an old-line newspaper. Much like the potential to watch television without the box, wearable platforms will undoubtedly enable loyal readers to see traditional newspaper pages laid out in front of their eyes without the actual paper and ink.
Except for those of you who enjoy getting ink on your fingers, the ability to summon that special communications genie is an impending and promising innovation that we're all awaiting with great anticipation. Genie, are you listening?