Analyst: Consumers don't want widgets on their TVs

Amidst all the announcements about widgets this week was one ominous note: a survey from Strategy Analytics saying that consumers it surveyed weren't all that hot on widgets.

Well, they're right -- and wrong. As Disraeli (or Mark Twain, depending on your preference) used to say, there's three kinds of lies: lies, damn lies, and statistics. And the way you design a survey can make a big difference in the sorts of answers you get.

In point of fact, the way the survey was designed, it could hardly help but have come up with the results it did. Consumers were asked to prioritize a list of Internet television features, and this is the order they came up with:

  • Access Video on Demand without a PC
  • Searching the home network for video content
  • Access user-generated content such as YouTube
  • Play media from a USB drive
  • Share television experience using messaging services
  • Make video conference or voice calls via the TV
  • Download widgets
  • Give the TV different color schemes or skins

Well, duh. Obviously consumers are going to say that most of these features are of higher priority than widgets. Do we really think somebody's going to say, "No, the hell with whether I can actually get content -- what's important to me is, can I get a widget!" ? Don't be silly.

Not to say that the results are wrong. I'm hearing anecdotal complaints even now about how the bottom part of the television screen has ended up getting devoted to previews and things, eliminating more and more of the content people actually want to see. And if the bottom part of the screen vanishes under a blizzard of whirling, dancing, streaming little widgets that they don't care about -- hell, yes, people are going to be annoyed.

There is one other component of the results that's definite - but it has nothing to do with widgets per se. "[V]arious Web TV value chain partners -- TV manufacturers, platform developers, content owners - are far from confident that today's Internet connections can deliver the sort of video experience consumers are expecting on big-screen TVs. And they are obviously right to be nervous in this respect," said Strategy Analytics, in its blog on the survey.

That's absolutely the case. How likely is it that consumers will have the type of bandwidth they need to support streaming Internet content on their TVs -- let alone additional items such as widgets? In its announcement earlier this week, Sony warned consumers that they needed at least 2.5 Mbps for satisfactory performance, and that even then the Internet content might not take up the full screen.

Yes, if you live in a metropolitan area, you may have access to that fat a pipe - if you want to pay for it. Where I live in Idaho, I have 2.5 Mbps -- just barely -- but many places here don't even have broadband Internet at all. (Don't assume you know which cities are most likely to have high-speed Internet, either; top cities according to Speedtest are places like San Antonio, Texas, and Rohnert Park, Calif.) Plus, if you're getting your broadband Internet over a non-deterministic provider such as via cable TV, and all your neighbors are also getting Internet that way, and you all try to download Internet content at once over a single pipe...slog.

But it's hard to see how people can say, now, before applications are even out, whether they want widgets. What examples did Strategy Analytics use for their test? We don't know, but they had to be early applications, which of course aren't going to be particularly compelling.

Not to mention, the survey doesn't break down the population demographically. Sorry to be ageist or sexist, but isn't it likely that a teen-something is going to be more interested in widgets than a septuagenarian? Isn't a guy watching sports with the remote going to be much more likely to want something to play with during the dull parts of the game (which to me is all of it, but never mind) than a mom who's just trying to settle the kids down while she makes dinner?

Plus, never underestimate the creativity of applications developers, or the taste of the American public. How many people would have said yes when asked whether they'd like a Magic 8-Ball application for their iPhone? You know, "Future cloudy. Try again later."

Yet iMakeDecisions, an application by a Boise entrepreneur that offers people ten ways to make decisions -- dart board, random number generator, graphical wishbone, rock/paper/scissors, and so on -- launched on November 11. "Within a week the $2 program had broken into the top 100 most popular "lifestyle" apps, despite competing against many that are free to download," reported the local newspaper.

So who knows what widgets people might invent, and which ones might grab consumers' attention? Remember, we're talking about people who've made pets out of rocks and digital clocks.

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