Yahoo Throws Widgets At Intel

IDF Fall 2008 - Yahoo helps to show off Intel's new CE 3100 chip with a widget based user interface for your TV.

There’s no doubt that Intel’s Media Processor CE 3100 has the potential to revolutionise our TV experience, but as always, any hardware is only as good as the software that runs on it. The biggest stumbling block for accessing the Internet on a TV has always been the user interface, and the fact that the traditional browser model just doesn’t work in the living room environment.

This is where Intel’s collaboration with Yahoo comes in, and the introduction of the Widget bar. Using the processing power of the CE 3100, Yahoo has created an overlay bar that runs along the bottom of the screen, which can be populated with your favourite web applications. Then it’s simply a matter of scrolling through your list of widgets and choosing the one that you’d like to use.

Once you’ve selected an application a sidebar will open up for you to interact with. If you select Flickr, you’ll be greeted with your photo albums, from which you can select any pictures that you wish to view. From here you can also kick off a slideshow, where your images will be displayed on the whole screen.

Next up they selected the Blockbuster widget, and demonstrated the ability to stream a 1080p trailer for a movie. I’m not convinced that the majority of consumers will have enough bandwidth to stream 1080p content direct from the Internet, but that’s a stumbling block for video on demand as a whole, not just this particular implementation.

Although Yahoo’s widget system definitely looks like a step in the right direction when it comes to Internet connected TVs, there are still a few major issues to consider. The most glaring potential problem is text input. It’s all very well having a widget for your favourite social networking site, but once you’ve selected it how are you going to write anything? Put simply, the TV remote control will not be an adequate tool for writing text, and having a keyboard in your living room kind of defeats the purpose of this kind of integration.

Of course there’s an argument that a high-end TV with this kind of functionality could ship with a decent LCD screen remote, which can bring a virtual keyboard to the party. However, if this kind of technology is going to filter down to the mainstream, it’s unlikely that consumers will be willing to spend the extra for a fancy remote that gives them keyboard functionality.

Again though, this isn’t a problem that’s limited to Yahoo’s widgets. Recently I was shown some BD Live applications, like live blogging while watching a Blu-ray movie, and once again you’re expected to input text via a remote control – far from ideal. To be fair, Intel said that it wasn’t really expecting the usage model to include much in the way of text input, instead seeing the widget environment as a way to view online content rather than post it.

The important message though, is that Intel and Yahoo have created a cohesive amalgamation of TV and Internet that doesn’t need external boxes or a Media Center PC. This could be the start of something very good.

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