LG has officially unveiled their highly anticipated WebOS-powered smart TV concept, which will power 70% of the new TVs LG makes. The company is really driving home the idea that this thing should be simple, putting that word in their marketing copy three times: "simple connection," "simple switching," and "simple discovery."
So, how does all this simplicity make itself known?
As you turn on the TV, an animated character named "Bean Bird" will take you through the setup of your new device--thus the simple connection. He (or she?) flutters around the screen encouraging users to complete their smart TV setup, because as WebOS’s head of product management and design, Itai Vonshak explains to the Verge, "there's little point in spending the extra money on a smart TV if you don't take advantage of its features." Great--so the first "simple" feature is a setup tutorial. Not an auspicious start.
Similar to the doomed WebOS of HP/Palm descent, the dominant UI metaphor is "cards" which aid in changing from one app to the other (that's the "simple switching" part from the marketing copy). Hulu Plus, Netflix, Twitter, and Amazon Instant Video, which will be available in LG's app store, will all be accessible through the television's online browser, once your Wi-Fi is enabled, of course. Bean Bird will remind you to do that if you don't have Wi-Fi enabled, which is eerily reminiscent of Clippy, the much-hated Microsoft Office mascot. Additionally, voice and gesture-based controls will allow the user to easily control the TV, lending itself to the simple discovery feature.
Inspired by the "no signal" image from old TVs, WebOS's interface is playful and bright with an emphasis on ease and unity. Apps appear as an overlay on the bottom of the screen of what you are watching and as you navigate to the left or right, "app makers can give you a big, full-screen preview to entice you to click." Yet, the real novelty in the TV lies in its overall uniformity through the cards. If you plug in a PS4 for example, a PS4 card will appear instead of the common HDMI 1, we are all too used to seeing. Hence "simple discovery."
LG bought HP's WebOS shortly after the company released--and then abruptly discontinued--the TouchPad tablet device and the Pre 3 phone, both running on WebOS. They are currently the second manufacturer of televisions, behind Samsung, and the release of their smart TV couldn't come at a better time. The New York Times reported that "in the year that ended in November, 22 percent of televisions sold in the United States were Internet-connected TVs, compared with 11 percent in the previous year." Roku has also announced a smart TV at CES. The only question that remains: When will Apple enter the market?