Sometimes, you watch TV on a small screen, sometimes you watch TV on a big screen. Sometimes you’re close to it, other times you’re not. Some TV watchers have 20/20 vision, others don’t.
What if TV adapted to your viewing, the same way that responsive websites adapt to differently-sized devices?
With the confluence of web-enabled televisions, streaming internet video, and a growing cultural appreciation for design, customization of electronics, and accessiblity, this might be a reasonable thing to see in the near future: a television that not only shows you *what* you want to see, but *how* you’d like to see it.
Adapting to different screen sizes
In many ways, our current televisions do the same thing they’ve always done: show you a full-screen video stream that’s the exact same, regardless of the size or shape of your television.
For movies and sitcoms, this isn’t a big deal: the desired screen is a full-screen single video. For programs that have onscreen chrome, though, this one-size-fits-all approach isn’t great: sports and news channels show scores, tickers, clocks, headlines, and other elements that might warrant the ability to distinguish chrome from video.
Here’s a TV sitcom: all video, no chrome.
Here’s a baseball game and a news program: mostly video, a bit of chrome:
Last, here’s a TV Guide: Just a bit of video in the corner, with most of the interface devoted to the guide:
What would it look like if the interface could change, based on the screen size?
For example, here’s how a responsive television broadcast of a baseball game might appear in three different contexts:
The Kitchen Television:
You’re prepping some dinner, and you’ve got the game on in the background. Your kitchen TV is pretty small, and it’s probably far away in a corner somewhere. In this context, the scores show up larger, the sports tickers are gone (they were too small to read, anyway), and as a result, the actual video is a bit smaller. Like a mobile app that focuses on glanceable stats, the kitchen TV focuses on scores and audio.
The Living Room:
Same as it is today: moderately-proportioned scores, small sports ticker, and fullscreen video.
The Massive Home Theater:
This set shows video content that’s a bit more zoomed out (to make the experience more immersive and lifelike), there’s extra content about the player onscreen, and the sports tickers are reduced in proportion to be legible but not obnoxiously large.
Now that we’ve gone and seperated the video from the chrome, why not take it a bit further?
You’ve customized the apps on your smartphone, customized the layout of your cupboards, and customized the bookmarks in your web browser. What if TV could do the same?
- ESPN viewers could set individual preferences for the sports scores that they see in the screen’s ticker.
- Let users choose what statistics from the current baseball game they’d like to see.
- Let users toggle the presence of news tickers, headlines, clocks, etc on a news channel.
- When your grandpa sits down in front of the TV, it knows his favorite channels and shows them in a large-text, easy-to-read menu.
- Detect different individuals and their accessiblity needs, and change the interface on-the-fly to accomodate them.
- Allow users with accessibility concerns (poor eyesight, colorblindness, attention deficit disorder) the ability to set minimum contrasts for this type of chrome.
- Closed-caption services that don’t suck: beautiful, legible text onscreen to help hard-of-hearing viewers understand.
Take it to the next level, and add the ability for the television to sense where and who you are:
- When your kid walks into the room while you’re watching a horror film, the TV set pauses so the kid doesn’t see something terrifying.
- Got kids and want to limit the amount of TV they watch? Easy: the TV knows them and how much they’ve watched, and turns off after awhile. It could also limit what channels they can watch without parental supervision in the room.
- The TV could pause show when you leave the room to grab a drink.
If there’s one thing the pre- and post-iPhone smartphones showed us, it’s that pre-existing design decisions are difficult to get out of, until you see something much better and rapidly shift to it. If Apple’s got another trick up its sleeve for the television, I’d hope it might include something like this.
It doesn’t seem unlikely, either. With MLB, NBA, NHL, and the Wall Street Journal all providing subscriptions for Apple TV customers, it’s totally feasible that Apple could create these adaptive and customized television experiences. These subscriptions could seperate the content from the chrome, and adapt to your screen.