Apps Will Rock the TV Experience

Gaming was big on early home computers from Atari, but the killer app that brought personal computing into the business mainstream was spreadsheets, notably IBM’s Lotus 1-2-3 (NYSE:IBM), then came word processing, email, and of course, web browsing.

Once Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) gave cell phones a useable general-purpose interface and enough smarts and power to become development platforms, apps took on a life of their own. Now there are millions of apps for gaming, entertainment, business, productivity, health, fitness, education and many other categories.

Software is indeed eating the world, as Marc Andreessen so aptly put it – transforming age-old industries like transportation, food delivery and hospitality – but that’s only happening because mobile devices now have the smarts, power and user interfaces for apps to proliferate.

The same thing will happen with TVs. It may take a few iterations after the first streaming video Apple TV box ships in October, but as with PCs, phones and tablets, once the platform has those three ingredients that enable it to be an effective development platform, apps will profoundly change the way we use TVs.

We used to talk about killer apps, but apps are the new killer apps. They’ve transformed the way we use every device with a screen, and TVs will be no exception. Not only that, but since the screen is much bigger and it’s located in the living room where the family used to live and may very well live again, that spells opportunity for app developers ... and advertisers.

Think about it. The killer category for PC apps was business productivity and, later on, ecommerce. For smartphones its gaming, messaging and social media. For TVs, it will be entertainment. Let’s face it. Nobody likes small screens. They’re handy for mobile use, but for entertainment purposes, who wants to sit and strain their eyes on a tiny display. That is, after all, why mobile screens keep getting bigger.

I don’t know about you, but when I’m not working, I’d just as soon kick back on a couch with a glass of wine and enjoy a big screen. Granted, in the Tobak family, it’s not unusual for my wife and I to both be doing stuff on our mobile devices while watching the tube. I don’t expect that usage model to change, but I can certainly envision all sorts of great apps to enhance the living room experience.

When it’s time to order sushi from our local restaurant, it would sure be nice to look at the enormous menu of specialty rolls together on a big screen and select the ones we want. And your kids will even be able to weigh in from another room.

Speaking of which, it’s long past time we brought FaceTime to the big screen, not to mention live streaming video of events via Twitter’s (NYSE:TWTR) Periscope, sharing pictures with Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) friends, watching and listening to music videos on Google’s (NASDAQ:GOOG) YouTube, and who knows what else?

Look at it this way. There are about 2 billion PCs in use, worldwide, and about the same number of smartphones. I don’t know how many family TVs there are, but I would be surprised if it’s not in the same range.

And get this. Our use of digital devices may have finally caught up to the amount of time we spend watching TV – about 5 hours a day for each in the U.S., according to eMarketer – but that means a similarly sized incremental market opportunity for app developers.

Like it or not, that also spells opportunity for advertisers. The potential for marketers to reach us through online apps and ads in our living rooms represents enormous untapped potential, considering that our hands have been fixed on the “advance” button of our DVR remotes to avoid commercials for years.

How does the TV app market measure up versus wearables like smart watches? In time, I’m sure they’ll be comparable, but the real question is which will evolve more quickly, and that’s a tough call to make at this early stage. I think we’ll know more in a year or so.

In the mean time, consider this. Maybe we’re becoming a mobile first world, but I bet we’re about to discover plenty of hot applications that are meant to be enjoyed while relaxing on a nice comfy couch with friends and family ... in person.