TV app wars are the new mobile phone wars are the new browser wars

App on TVFirst there was the browser wars, when you went to sites that refused to work in your browser due to some arbitrary decision by the developer and success was determined not by competition and features, but by courts in the US and Europe. Now, there is the mobile phone wars, which are equally religious and as such have protagonists equally unable to step back and think about the user rather than their own beliefs when recommending the “best phone”.

Next, there will be the TV app wars. All the major TV manufacturers have started thinking and working on ways to connect your TV to the internet, and enhance your viewing experience by publishing content from both their own portals and content from others such as LoveFilm, YouTube and BBC iPlayer. Panasonic have Smart Viera, Sony have their Internet TVs and Samsung have their “Smart TVs”.

But that’s only pre-market gadgetry, there’s also the post-market kit in the form of set-top boxes and integrated hardware in games consoles. Apple TV aims to extend the now well known and adopted iTunes platform and push its space into the living room. The Sony PS3, Nintendo Wii and Microsoft XBox 360 have all got their own services and ecosystems that extend their software into your everyday life rather than limiting itself gaming.

The problem is the market place is currently fragmented, arbitrary and proprietary. When buying a TV, you are asked to make your purchase decision with regards to internet content (which is a significant domestic purchase) based only on trade relationships between the TV manufacturer and the content provider. Want LoveFilm? Then Panasonic TVs are no good. Want iPlayer? Then Microsoft’s XBox 360 is no good. Buy a Panasonic, which can serve YouTube content, but you already have an XBox 360, which can also serve YouTube content. Now you have duplication. Whereas previously you had multiple players vying for the same market, we now have multiple players vying for converging – but separate – markets. And that provides one key feature to the user: confusion and doubt.

Meanwhile, Samsung have their own application platform. XBox 360 has just launched (or rather re-launched in a more obvious format) its own app marketplace. So you have a YouTube app for your Samsung TV, your XBox 360 and your Android phone. I guess you never can get enough of cat videos, no matter where you are. These application marketplaces are fundamentally incompatible. Your app from Microsoft will not work on your Android phone, or even its own Windows Phone 7 line. Features are also dependent on trade relationships. LoveFilm only recently launched on XBox 360 despite being available on “selected” TVs and the PS3, and BBC content was taken out of Windows Media Centre for some reason while the XBox 360 is the only console that it continues to be unavailable for – based only on the BBC’s stance that the content should not be confined to users with a paid XBox Live subscription. I struggle to see their logic. TV License holders have paid for the content, but I have also paid for Apple users to have their content, too. Such grandstanding is inconsequential to Microsoft, but the user is given a second-rate experience.

There is hope. Ubuntu TV is hoping to launch and gain ground in TVs, which could create a more open marketplace using an established operating environment. Windows 8 and Windows Phone 7 will ultimately converge so could conceivably execute the same code. Download it for your phone, and you have it on your PC. And with rumours of a Microsoft set-top-box in addition to the XBox 360, the same execution environment is possible (think WinRT/Silverlight and HTML5/JavaScript). Like your smartphone, it depends to a large extent on your ecosystem at home. And if your ecosystem doesn’t fit the trade relations content providers have made, tough luck.

Another UK venture bites the dust

The Isle of Man is just one big cartel. In fact, calling it a big cartel is inflating its importance, and therefore the importance of the jumped up bureaucrats who justify their existence by wielding their little hammers in musty chambers.

Countless times, UK companies have expressed enough confidence in the Manx pound to justify investing on the island to create new outlets or expand existing outlets (this, in spite of a challenging retail environment). Tesco have been refused permission to sell home goods and clothing several times, and now we find Next have been shown the finger for wanting to open a retail outlet selling their quality home wares.

Reasons (excuses) for these rejections add up to nothing more than protectionism. Tesco was rejected due to local traders crying foul. Next has also been stuffed due to “goods weren’t considered suitable to be sold from the site”. Town planners seem to not only be able to justify laying pink paving stones when more important road improvements are essential, but can also dictate where goods are sold on the island. They claim clothing and home wares should be sold in Douglas Town Centre. Has anyone told them about Tynwald Mills? The most expensive and pretentious building with a few shops in this side of Saudi Arabia. (Wait, isn’t that just down the road from Braddan?)

While the motives of these civil servants are to be commended they are missing two key factors which are undeniable in modern retail:

  • Customers demand value, particularly in austere times. The Manx pound gets little value due to inflated prices. I don’t mind paying more, if it is backed up with good customer service. Time and time again, Manx customer service is shoddy and insulting. UK companies on island are trained to UK standards, and this shows in their service. I always shop at Boots, Tesco, B&Q and Next for this reason.
  • If customers can’t get what they want on island, they will just get it on the internet. The UK retail sector is in dire straits due to the massive detrimental effect that sites like Amazon have had on bricks-and-mortar shops. If these planners think the Isle of Man is somehow above this trend they are even more stupid than I’m giving them credit for. And no daft Cretney-inspired Venda scheme can avoid this fact.

Currys/PC World are vying for the same retail unit. This has seen further opposition from various quarters bemoaning the effect on local traders such as Waltons and Colebourns. The “it’s not fair” moan is wearing thin, particularly when the sets in local outlets are typically £100+ more expensive than UK retailers. Where did I just by my new 32″ Panasonic television? Amazon. What about my audio-system? Super-fi. (Or maybe they can solve this by slapping a tax on any box with Amazon written on it as they come off the boat?)

I’m not for a minute condoning the practices of some of these UK companies by not paying their local dues, but one really should stop and think. How many people does Tesco hire? And B&Q (the Q stands for Quayle, by the way, a Manx name – something else I learnt while learning the Manx language)? Each of these people are given employment, which gives the island income through taxation and reinvestment through their wallets and purses. This is real value and while the island may miss out on sums of money in taxes, the personal income generates additional income for the island through further spending which secures jobs, investment, etc.

If these so-called planners had any sense, and I’m thinking the same level of sense I learnt during GCSE Business Studies, they would see this and maybe manage the situation a little better. Create an out-of-town retail park, but make their own car-park with their own pay-and-display income. Train and look after the local town centre shop staff. Put them on customer service and marketing courses. Subsidise their rates. Talk to their landlords and have them justify why their rents are so high. Businesses should survive only because they offer quality and value, not because their mates on the town council are “looking out for them”. At the end of the day, money talks, and money is going to be leaving the island faster than it stays for reinvestment.