While Android TV OS continues to be globally dominant, there are plenty of other feature-rich operating systems competing for the attention of increasingly exacting viewers, writes David Davies.
After many years without profound change, the role of the main household TV has started to evolve significantly over the past five years. On the one hand, its centrality to daily viewing has seemingly been questioned by the rise of device-based consumption; on the other, the emergence of UHD and HDR services as well as interactive gaming have heralded the prospect of a new lease of life for TVs as unified home entertainment/activity hubs.
As consumers’ expectations have increased, so have the requirements of TV operating systems. One consequence of this has been a highly competitive TV OS sector, in which Google’s Android remains the leading player with about 40% of market share – followed by Samsung Tizen (13%), LG’s webOS (13%) and Roku (6%). (Source: Statista).
With an estimated 70% of all TVs sold in 2018 being smart products, the impetus on OS providers to further enhance and differentiate their offerings is unlikely to diminish any time soon – something that is further underlined by our overview of some of the most recent developments in TV OS.
‘Customisation was a game-changer’
As an eminent provider of software solutions for multiscreen entertainment and STBs, 3SS (3 Screen Solutions) is well-positioned to chart the recent evolution of TV OS. Its core offer is the 3READY ecosystem that allows operators to bring experience-driven services to market via a flexible Product Framework, an open architecture and system design, and an expanding network of integrated technology and content partners. The company is “entirely agnostic” when it comes to OS, and as such it works to deliver experiences based around numerous systems, including Android TV, Tizen, webOS and Roku. Nonetheless, there is no doubting that Android TV is currently leading the way in terms of growth.
Donath explains that when Google introduced its Android TV Operator Tier proposition a few years ago, for the first time operators could provide their subscribers with a customised, operator-branded Android TV experience – rather than needing to rely on a standardised launcher. “That was a game-changer and made the Android TV OS much more compelling for operators,” he says.
In February, 3SS revealed that it has 12 Android TV projects underway for operators in EMEA, North America, Latin America and Asia Pacific. In each case the 3READY Product Framework – and in particular the 3READY Custom Launcher – is being used to create customised services that work seamlessly, and in a harmonised way, across smart TVs and other devices.
Describing 3SS as “one of the early adopters of Android TV”, 3SS chief product officer & chief marketing officer Pierre Donath says that at this point “the OS is quite mature and well-established around the world. In terms of what happens next, I think that we will see Google focusing a lot on quality and scalability.”
In terms of his own expectations for Android TV, he urges that it “should be kept as stable as possible so it’s easier to scale out based on the OS. However, there will also need to be continued flexibility so that services can be customised for operators – they need that in order to differentiate their offerings.” Donath also hopes for deeper integration with voice assistants as well as the use of cloud- and AI-derived technologies, enabling functions such as “recommendation and search to be even more effective, and to deliver the best viewing experiences possible”.
“In terms of what happens next, I think that we will see Google focusing a lot on quality and scalability,” Pierre Donath, 3SS
Along with the Android TV-based deployments, 3SS stresses that multiple smart TV projects are ongoing using Samsung Tizen and LG webOS – also based on 3READY. Here, too, the pace of development and delivery is “continuing to accelerate”, he says.
“We are delivering all these projects with maximum efficiency because we have fully embraced modern agile methodologies, such as SAFe (Scaled Agile Framework), which have proven to enable faster, high-quality system deployments,” notes Donath.
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Steady but determined evolution
In terms of the TV OS themselves, it is apparent that we are now in a steady but determined evolution. For example, Samsung’s Tizen has continued to place highly in lists of the best TV OS, not least because of an enduring focus on the intuitive nature of the user interface. This is based around a two-tier menu of customisable tiles across the bottom of the screen – one row assigned to apps and another displaying content from the highlighted app. There has also been praise for Tizen’s smart home integration, which includes extensive support for multiple voice assistants.
LG also points to voice assistant integration as well as support for increasingly personalised viewing experiences when discussing its platform, webOS. Invited to consider the primary selling points of webOS, LG product manager of home entertainment James Thomas comments: “The key USPs of LG’s webOS smart platform focus on offering users a personalised streaming experience across a vast range of entertainment services. So, for complete ease of use, the smart system is operated by LG ThinQ AI technology, allowing users to control the platform with voice control, meaning that all consumers need to do to get the information they need is speak up. LG’s Magic Remote is intuitive and easy to use; featuring point-and-click and scroll-wheel functionality to navigate the TV’s UI, plus voice control built-in. With voice control the user can search for content, control the TV, for example, set an automatic sleep timer, plus access Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa.”
The latest update to webOS – which coincides with LG’s 2021 TV range – underlines a continuing focus on personalisation. The updated version is being offered with all of the 2021 OLED, QNED MiniLED, NanoCell and UHD smart TVs, meaning that any purchaser of a 2021 LG model will have access to the company’s latest webOS ecosystem. Specific enhancements include a redesigned home screen offering “a more enjoyable and intuitive content discovery experience by providing faster access to the most frequently used apps and streamlining content discovery with recommendations based on the user’s preferences and viewing history.”
“The key USPs of LG’s webOS smart platform focus on offering users a personalised streaming experience across a vast range of entertainment services,” James Thomas, LG
General ease of use and connectivity also remain high priorities. Accordingly, says Thomas, LG has redesigned Magic Remote, which now offers “simpler controls when using voice recognition with LG’s multi-AI offerings of LG ThinQ, Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant”.
In more general terms, 2021 looks set to be an unpredictable year for TV manufacturers. Supply chain shortages caused by Covid-19-related border closures have slowed down turnaround times, while production has also been impacted by governmental ‘stay at home’ instructions and the need to maintain social distancing. These issues will become less challenging as lockdown conditions recede, but one legacy of viewers having more time to watch content is that their expectations of OS are likely to be even more sharply focused in future.
Last word to Thomas, who indicates that changing behavioural patterns will continue to inform TV OS development: “As viewers continue to spend more time at home and on their TVs, we believe that the development for the future of TV OS will be accelerated to meet the growing consumers’ needs – for instance, [facilitating access to] a variety of content that is best suited to the user.”