Motive Academy

The opportunities created by eye interaction on Apple TV.

Interacting with just your eyes can be simple and require very little effort. It can open up any number of new opportunities.  What if while watching your favorite competition based reality show you could vote with your eyes instead of calling a phone number? Imagine launching video highlights of a specific player that you’re looking at while watching a football game. When you see the headline of a news story on CNN and want to know more you can interact with it from the couch.

Web video experiences can flow much better with eye interaction. Take for example YouTube. In the living room we don’t want to constantly interact with our TVs so it’s hard to integrate the experience of watching lots of 2-3 minute videos. Eye interaction can change this. After you watch a video choosing the next one is as simple as looking at it. Surfing YouTube can move into the living room.

Eye interaction is perfect for games. It will be interesting because just like multi touch it will start everyone on a pretty level playing field. No one could have predicted that a game like Angry Birds, created by a small startup would become the iconic multi touch game. Eye interaction will probably evolve in a similar way.

Text based social media may have a place on the TV, but it will not be the killer app. Text entry and reading text on a TV is cumbersome and far from ideal. If the experience isn’t better than using an iPad or a laptop it just won’t work. People already heavily use their iPads and phones while they watch TV. Social Media on a TV will not be an order of magnitude better than just using your iPad so it will not be popular. We want to relax and watch, while we post to Facebook on our phones.

With all of that said, developers will no doubt design social experiences built specifically for eye interaction. Just as Instagram built an amazing experience specifically for mobile. There are plenty of opportunity to create engaging social experiences for the TV that don’t focus on text entry.

Recommendation engines will develop in interesting new ways. Eye interaction will provide some very useful data that can improve them. Whether Apple builds their own or if they come from the App store. We tell the world what we want far more easily with our eyes than our hands. The decision starts with our eyes before we ever touch the button. When you’re looking through the guide trying to figure out what to watch it can help to speed up your search or find something you didn’t know about. Or suggest web content that matches the content on the TV schedule.

Eye interaction can revolutionize advertising on TV. Viewers will be able to interact with ads using their eyes. This will be a huge enticement for content owners to come to the Apple TV platform. Advertising is the engine that powers TV. Apple can revolutionize it and put themselves right in the middle. They can build a 30 second app platform for a very valuable piece of advertising. Any TV network will see dollar signs and bring their content to Apple’s platform. Eye tracking will not be part of this. Advertisers will not have access to track what you look at only what you interact with.

iOS devices have one major flaw when it comes to being a remote. They provide no tactile feedback. When you use your TV remote its rare that you actually look at the remote. You feel the buttons and know what you need to hit to cycle through channels or go to specific channels or the guide. Looking at the remote is an interruption in the TV experience. iOS devices cannot function as remotes if you don’t look at them. We also use our iOS devices for a lot of other functions. Web, email, Facebook, texting, apps, do we also want to control the TV with them while all of those other things are going on?

Voice control is great for certain tasks. Telling the TV to go to CNN is a far better UI than entering a 3 digit code on a remote. Voice will be very useful for search or text entry. But that may be as far as it goes. XBox Kinect has voice control, but telling it what to do based on on screen menu items is brutally slow. You have to read each specific menu item out loud. No user interface is quicker than just looking.

When Steve Jobs first decided to tackle the challenge of redesigning the TV experience he started with the set top box. This makes sense in many ways. It’s easier to sell a set top box to lots of people, rather than try to convince them to replace their TV. Steve Jobs realized very quickly that the challenge with set top boxes is the gate keepers. The cable and satelite providers have a big say in what happens with set top boxes. Steve Jobs hated businesses with gate keepers. He wanted to market and sell his products directly to millions of people who can vote on their own without gatekeepers. When he created his own cell phone he explored building his own network to avoid the cell phone carriers. Because of the gate keepers Apple was never really able to compete in the set top box market because they were never able to integrate the full TV experience. Having a limited selection on iTunes wasn’t good enough.

The TV landscape is different now. The FCC now requires cable companies to provide CableCards. These are just like SIM cards in cell phones. They allow 3rd party boxes to access the cable network. This will allow the Apple TV to seamlessly integrate all of the content on cable. Apple is very familiar with SIM cards, it won’t be hard for them to provide CableCards at every Apple store when you purchase your TV.

The TV is a device that literally everyone values. As a commodity business with razor thin margins it is a massive opportunity for innovation. TV manufacturers have been unable to create much in the way of competitive advantage. So far no one has been able to design a new user interface for the TV that is an order of magnitude better. With eye interaction Apple can design a far better experience that will have maximum effect at launch because no one is expecting any innovation in the TV category.