Yahoo TV Widgets – Dead before they even started?

One of my earlier posts was a review for LG 60PS80 connected TV. Purchased specifically for its connected capabilities, I complained that, while the TV supports Yahoo TV Widgets, it didn’t receive any software update in more than a year. I will try to analyze why this happened and if there is a signal that the TV manufacturers just are not interested enough in the Yahoo TV Widget platform.

Designed specifically for TV, Yahoo TV Widget platform evolved from Konfabulator® (KON) widget platform for the PC, with specific customizations to make it work properly on the TV screens and other consumer electronic devices. Yahoo makes and distributes a Widget Development Kit (WDK) and recently opened their developer forums to a larger audience.

The first official announcement and display of TVs including Yahoo TV Widgets happened during Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in January 2009. If I remember correctly, there were some Samsung TVs demo-ing some TV Widgets developed by Yahoo including a Flickr client, News, Weather and Finance. The benefits were obvious, an open platform and a common way of designing applications, an easy way to submit a widget once it was developed and the future looked rosy. It even convinced myself to invest $2000 in getting a new connected TV, hoping that it will change forever my TV viewing experience (the way Yahoo! ensured us it will happen). Also, according to Yahoo, more of 300 publishers were interested to develop Widgets and their estimations called for about 100 Widgets released by the end of the year (and we are talking about 2009 here).

More than one year later, the situation is not that rosy. My brand new and expensive TV as of last year still has the same widgets it was shipped with, repeated calls to LG support always had the same result: “We don’t know of any software updates, we’ll let you know when we’ll have any news”. I even inquired on the Yahoo Developer Forums, and I got something like “Welcome to the world of CE devices” and everybody seemed complacent with the current situation.

What happened? Here are some possible explanations:

  • Many TV manufactures had their own in-house software developers and for political reasons, they were given higher priority. Samsung looks like it will start its own application store, Sony has its own Bravia Internet Streaming, LG already had its own VUDU and NETFLIX clients and as a company seems vary to open their platform to any 3rd party provider (it is the only major manufacturer to not include VUDU APPS for example). At this point, VIZIO seems to be the only manufacturer that is really interested in adopting the platform, maybe because they are relatively new to the market and did not invest heavily yet in their own connected platform.
  • The initial hardware implementation for 2009 models was not fast enough to properly run the Yahoo TV Widget platform. As a result, the widgets run slow, making the user interaction less satisfying. This might have prompted some manufacturers to not approve new widgets until they can offer a better user experience. Risky strategy that might kill the platform for good, especially in the light of new  players as Popbox and other connected set top boxes set to come out this year.
  • Lack of an easy way for the user to install new widgets outside the manufacturer control. While it is obvious to me why this kind of restriction is in place, history teaches us that the best way to make a platform popular is to open it and let it go viral. Sure, there will be complaints that a specific widget crashes my TV, but I could foresee websites popping up all over the place and offer widgets libraries increasing consumer awareness.
  • The quality and usefulness of initial widgets. Beside  Flickr and Twitter widgets, everything else seemed to offer a low usability value.
  • The Linux only availability of the development kit. I am fairly sure the developer response would have been much higher with a Windows based development kit.

Don’t get me wrong, I do sincerely hope that Yahoo TV Widget platform will take off, and in time, we’ll be able to choose from hundreds of available widgets, and maybe even a Yahoo TV Widget store some day, but I think Yahoo just didn’t allocate enough resources to ensure the platform’s success. Beside that, selling TV applications might become a lucrative market in the future, and the big TV manufacturers don’t want to share this pie. And don’t forget, Google will also enter in this market with Google TV…And they might very well succeed where others have failed.

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