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.