Skype’s announcement today of agreements to have television sets become end points for Skype video calls really raises a series of both user interface issues as well as social issues:
- Do I want to be interrupted while watching programming such as a sporting event or Oprah?
- Where is it more convenient to talk: via a TV audio channel open to the room or a traditional handset with its inherent conversation privacy and reduced potential to interrupt a roomful of family and/or friends?
- Where do we want convergence? How much do we want to have application-specific hardware?
- Do we want scenarios where all those in the viewing room are exposed to the call?
- What clothes shall I wear while watching TV but enabled to be seen on a video call?
- If Skype is introduced into TV sets, how far can the inherent intelligence and Internet connectivity be deployed in a way that encourages user adoption of additional features and services? (SlingBox in the TV?)
- What Skype account(s) does one want to come via the TV? An separate account? A personal-use account? A business-use account? or combinations of these accounts. (For the Philips VoIP phone on our Rogers Home Phone service, we use a separate Skype account from my normal Skype “business-use” account.)
Why do I raise these questions? Consider three related user experiences I have had:
- When the Turin Winter Olympics opened in February 2006, I happened to be on a Skype call to an acquaintance, Peter, in Sweden while watching the CBC broadcast of the opening ceremony in my office via my newly acquired SlingBox. He was also watching the same opening ceremony on Swedish television. Our conversation was intertwined between the original purpose of the call (to address some technical issues) and comments on the opening ceremony. It was an interesting experience but note that we were watching and discussing the broadcast while being able to watch it.
- Recently Rogers quietly added a TV Call Display service that brought a feature of our Home Phone service to our TV set. Namely when someone calls us the caller ID information appears along the bottom of the TV screen along with options to Send to Voice Mail, Snooze (disable the call notification for up to 2 hours) or change the TV Call Display settings. Bottom line: it’s a minimally obtrusive service that actually provides call information prior to the phone(s) ringing and let’s you have options for dealing with the call without leaving your viewing chair.
- It’s real handy to have a PVR service that continues to record a program while viewing other programs; the other service that comes handy when there are conflicting sports events is Picture-in-Picture.
Skype’s TV Video calling currently has to be in an early adopter (or launch) phase. It simply replaces the currently viewed program with the video call taking over the screen and effectively becomes another Skype client. (More Skype Everywhere?) Obviously the TV set has to be both “intelligent” and Internet-enabled; this explains both why the HDMI 1.4 cable specification includes the ability to incorporate an Ethernet connection and why new higher performance intelligence has to be introduced into TV sets (or cable set-top boxes).
But, partially based on my experiences described above, for a fully featured user experience we need to see:
- On-screen notification of a call while watching a broadcast program along with options to take the call or send it to a voice mail (or video mail) service.
- Ongoing recording of the currently viewed TV program in background on the PVR while on the call.
- Picture-in-picture integration to allow a viewer to monitor a program while on a call (or switch between the program and calling party as the primary display content).
- Multi-party calling (is this a potential revenue generating service for Skype?)
- Forwarding/transferring of the voice channel of the call to another Skype-enabled device such as the RTX 3088 Dualphone or mobile smartphone, or forward both the voice and video channels of the call to a Skype client on a PC.
- Chat or text messaging capability.
Given the size of the somewhat saturated HD television set market it needs new features to go beyond simply HD capability; using the TV as a Skype end point becomes one option to enhance the TV feature set. From the user perspective, on the other hand, it becomes one of many choices for handling (Skype) conversations. It certainly adds to the “Skype Everywhere” theme but how far do we want “everywhere” to go?
Bottom line: going forward we are going to see a range of attempts at convergence of our communications. But we are left with many questions:
- How much intelligence do we need within our “end point” devices? (I just acquired a Blu-Ray player that has an active Ethernet connection for firmware updates and additional content information delivery).
- Should the Skype intelligence be in TV sets or does it make more sense (and for broader distribution of Skype) to have the Skype intelligence in a set-top box, such as our Scientific Atlanta Explorer box?
- What additional services would intelligence in the TV or cable set-top box could be delivered by the cable service providers?
- How intense will the competition become between TV set manufacturers and cable set-top box manufacturers to control the intelligence behind these services? What can the set manufacturers and the cable companies see as business models for these competing offerings?
- Can this video calling intelligence be brought to mobile smartphones? Do we need LTE or 4G networks to make this happen?
At a minimum, the introduction of Skype’s TV client gives us talking points for the upcoming CES 2010 later this week.
Additional links and information:
Share Skype Blog: Get Skype on your TV
Brad Stone, New York Times: A Venture Integrating Skype Into the Family Room
And, as for the Hockey Picture on the captured TV screen: tonight Canada will be defeating the U.S. for World Junior Hockey supremacy once again…. fortunately I will be able to watch it live on my flight to Las Vegas. Something to do in this era of minimalist carry-on luggage.