An operating system (OS) is the ware that makes computing an experience to be appreciated not just by the geeks but also by consumers. It helps display the desired outputs on the PC screen.
The term OS came into general circulation with the advent and popularity of computers, but is no longer limited to the PC territory. Its second dominion has been communications, duly shaped by a rapid adoption of smart phones.
And of late, we have been hearing more and more about the OS entering the realm of audiovisual content, delivered over a new genre of devices called tablets and also over a new breed of high-definition television sets—the ‘new TV.’ The latest bit has come from Samsung, which reportedly said it is “reviewing” whether to use Google’s Android for accessing movies on its HD TVs. Incidentally, Samsung is also understood to be developing its own OS for TVs.
No single OS pervades all the three screens—of the computer, the smart phone and the new TV.
On PCs, Windows continues to the only 800-pound OS. On smart phones, Symbian is still the leading OS, but its position has been under pressure from the rapid march of iOS and Android, which have also put BlackBerry on back foot.
On the new TV front, neither Windows nor Symbian look set to gain any foothold for now. The maximum buzz here is from Android, especially after the Google TV announcement in May this year, with Sony, Intel and Logitech partnering.
Android-powered TV sets and set-top boxes are expected to arrive as early as Christmas this year in the US, and the consumer response there will determine how soon these are brought to other markets.
What can be some of the factors encouraging the new TV’s adoption? Well, simplicity of usage and ease of navigation will certainly be the key ones. It will also be important that its interface doesn’t start resembling those of PCs, as that can act as a put-off for the uninitiated. After all, a reason why the PC has not become a living room centrepiece despite its ability to play all media is that it is still relatively complex to operate.
No wonder then software companies’ earlier attempts to woo TV audiences to the computer’s screen have failed. Indeed, it makes better sense to reach out to non-geeks on their preferred screen—the TV.
Nevertheless, an OS will open up the big screen to a creative breed of application developers, who would be bringing a multitude of applications for the living-room audience, even though TV will remain the lead application.
Apart from the programs broadcast by TV channels, a variety of other content, drawn from the Internet will be searchable—and viewable, while existing TV programs will become more interactive.
A key challenge for TV makers, many of whom happen to be PC and smart phone makers too, will be to design an appropriate input device, which should neatly blend the key features of a TV remote and a PC keyboard. And yes, it should remain a couch thing.
Coming back to Samsung, the world’s largest TV maker will likely keep doors to Android open rather than risk rival Sony stealing away early adoptions in the yet-to-be-developed ‘new TV’ market. Samsung anyways follows a similar approach for smart phones, where it supports both Android and Bada platforms.
After all, why will consumers pick up a new TV if it’s run by an inferior OS?
(As published in Deccan Chronicle, September 23, 2010.)

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