Switched On: The next microplatform

Ross Rubin
R. Rubin|11.18.12

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Each week Ross Rubin contributes Switched On, a column about consumer technology.

DNP Switched On The next microplatform

The case for rich operating systems supporting a wide range of applications has been proven out among PCs, tablets and smartphones. But the jury is still out for other devices such as televisions. While Samsung pushes ahead on attracting apps to its Smart TVs using its own platform and LG, Sony and Vizio align with Google TV, there are still reasons to believe that the smart TV will fail to have tremendous impact as Switched On discussed last year. Blu-ray players, video game consoles and cheap boxes from Apple, Roku, Netgear and others allow consumers to expand their video options while integrated networking provides gateways to content from smartphones, tablets and PCs.

Perhaps the app model is a poor metaphor for an experience that has been identified so long with channels. Or perhaps television is open to some new functionality, but not as wide a variety of apps as we see for PCs and smartphones. In that instance, television is a microplatform, a device class that would benefit by being opened to third-party development, but for which functionality must be closely tied to the content and the usage of the device as opposed to a broad and generic one like the tablet.

Over the past few months, another legacy device with an even longer history than the television has surfaced as a microplatform: the camera. As with television, we are seeing the development of homegrown app models (such as Sony's PlayMemories Camera Apps included with its NEX-5R) and the use of Android (from both Nikon and Samsung, the latter of which has slapped what is functionally a Galaxy SIII on the back of a camera). Never willing to cede too much ground to dedicated devices, the smartphone world has also gotten into the act, with Windows Phone 8 supporting a special class of camera apps Microsoft has burdened with the confusing name "Lenses" (not to be confused with the City Lens app from its close partner Nokia).

Some of these apps are mostly renamings of things that have existed in the photography world for many years, such as scene modes, time lapse or panoramas. Others are imports from smartphone or image-editing apps, such as Instagram-like filters, social-sharing options or new twists on high-dynamic range photography that use multiple exposures to reduce noise or replace closed eyes with open ones from another exposure. But the ones that make the best case for opening up the camera are the ones that take pictures in new directions, such as features from Sony and Nokia that can meld still and motion imagery in the same medium.

As with televisions, and unlike with smartphones and other major platform devices, it will take some time before the battle between the proprietary route and the licensed OS route (Android by default) wins out. Different companies have taken different routes on different devices. Samsung, which is the world's largest Android handset maker, has gone the proprietary route on its televisions but is bringing Android to the camera. On the other hand, Sony, which supports Android in its handsets and its televisions, has gone its own way in cameras. However, cameras are inherently tightly integrated, hands-on tools, and the overall case for apps on them is stronger than for the TV.

Ross Rubin is principal analyst at Reticle Research, a research and advisory firm focusing on consumer technology adoption. He shares commentary at Techspressive and on Twitter at@rossrubin.

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