concept19-09-2011

What makes the difference between a cellphone and a television set? Differences are very evident, one might think, but they become subtler when the prefix “smart” is added to both entertainment devices. Smart television sets and smartphones have more common points in functionality than differences in fact. Thus is the effect of the technological convergence we are witnessing in these days, bringing together the network infrastructure which allows us to make phone calls with the one that allows us to stream video contents and watch them on all connected devices, including smartphones and smartTVs likewise.

The market is converging to a point where every connected device will support all (or most) functionalities that its computing processor is able to support. Smartphones will enable the user to watch TV on the move, while smartTVs enable former passive TV watchers to browse the Internet and to run applications. Instead, the real difference between these very different classes of entertainment and connectivity devices, is to be found in the usage experience they support: not only because smartphones are naturally more capable of adapting to our demands, but also because both devices are used in different places and with a different mindset.

Smartphones are usually used with an active approach, similar to the one required when operating a computer. When we interact with a smartTV, we passively watch a series of linear video contents without having to control anything more complex than the TV remote. In the first case, we adopt a so-called “lean forward” stance, since we are actively interacting with our full concentration, while in the latter case we enter a “lean back” attitude. Those differences in usage paradigm influence our willingness to invest time in customizing and learning about the device we are using: usually users take the time to deeply customize their smartphone, which then becomes the personal mobile device par excellence. On the other hand, smartTV users usually accept the defaults given by the TV maker, rarely investing more than the time strictly required to setup TV channels.

The openBOXware for Android project starts from these starting points and has two objectives:

  1. Enable smartphones to receive TV contents and channels, effectively transforming the device into a TV set which can be setup and configured only once,
  2. Make all multimedia contents that can be found on the Internet accessible as if they were linear TV channels, thus connecting  people to the Internet who otherwise would have no motivation nor need to do so.

By both preserving the usage paradigm of the traditional TV set and also maintaining the richness of customization and interactiveness of smartphones, a device using openBOXware for Android will be familiar to 99% of the population, accustomed to TV watching, and proliferate the demand for enhanced and expanded content availability thanks to the Internet.

This concept takes a very simple form in practice: the openBOXware for Android framework is a software platform capable of running on almost any smartphone sporting the Android operating system. The framework allows content providers (and users) to define “media sources” which expose multimedia content (either through the Internet or from any other user accessible location) and use them to watch linear (or seemingly linear, that is linearized) contents. Additionally, the framework is empowered by the capabilities of the underlying smartphone operating system, allowing the user to install any application and thus interact with other social and multimedia services which most of the population are becoming more used to. These applications can be designed to take advantage of the openBOXware for Android framework, in order to present an user interface which is more suitable to the “lean back” experience the framework is meant to enable.