Real talk about the innovation vacuum in televisions


Do you need a curved TV such as this 105-inch version from Samsung? Probably not. (Julie Jacobson/AP)

Here’s a look at five ideas that could impact the way we live, work and play.

1. The latest TV innovations aren’t significant innovations.

It’s a new year with an old story line. Manufactures hype up and roll out their latest televisions. There was 3D TV, now there are curved TVs. The screens get more garish and even more pixels are packed in like airline passengers. As manufacturers strive to make better televisions, they’re making incremental innovations not disruptive innovations, which upend businesses and change our lives. No one needs to rush out now and buy a 3D TV or a curved television. TVs are a huge market, and there’s money to be made. So why don’t we see game-changing improvements? This was expertly explained by Farhad Manjoo. From The Wall Street Journal:

The death of innovation in TV hasn’t come about because TVs are perfect. Far from it. It remains a big hassle to find something you want to watch, or to stream TV shows and movies without consulting a handful of remotes, or to navigate your cable system’s byzantine menus. Indeed, in our modern, multidevice, multi-subscription-service livings rooms, almost nothing is as easy as is it needs to be.

At the 2014 International Consumer Electronics Show, LG unveils its new 105-inch curved ultra high definition TV. (Zoeann Murphy/The Washington Post)

But TV makers aren’t in a position to address any of these real problems. They don’t have the clout to make significant deals with entertainment companies, which would be necessary to fix the problem of having to subscribe to many services in order to watch everything that you would like. They can’t alter the way cable systems bundle channels, which might make it easier to cut your monthly bill.

2. A smartphone with an iris scanner.

Typing a password to unlock your smartphone a dozen times of day is annoying. Yahoo CEO Marissa Meyer famously didn’t even use a passcode on her phone because of that hassle. For Meyer and many others, Apple’s Touch ID was a game-changer. Slide your finger across a sensor, and the phone automatically unlocks.

According to Bloomberg, Samsung is studying another tactic — iris scanners. Imagine if your phone only unlocked when you stared it down. There’s an exciting potential to make our lives easier and our devices more securer, just as long as you don’t plan on having your camera covered all the time for security purposes.

3. Invasive marketing is just beginning.

The boiling frog story is well-known. Drop a frog in a pot of boiling water, and it’ll jump out. Place the frog in cold water and slowly heat it, and the frog will boil to death. Incremental changes tend not to be noticed. That’s what marketers are counting on as they increasingly learn more about us. Lydia DePillis explains the unsettling way marketers will tie together everything they know about us:

“People are running around out there leaving traces of their behavior, and we can bring it all together and have single source data,” Cohen says. “And the possibilities are really endless with what you can do with this stuff.”

The problem is, consumers start to get a little jumpy when they realize how closely they’re being watched — which is why this stuff will phase in gradually.

“It’s going to be a slow process,” professor Michael Cohen says. “Companies want to be careful, but they also know how valuable it is. It’s this slow transition of people giving up their identities. You could definitely do a lot of damage to your brand if you’re seen as violating peoples’ basic rights.” 

4. Virtual food drives.

Can we improve upon the traditional food drive? Donations sometimes have to be thrown away because the food expired or didn’t survive the collection process. Kevin Lutz explains at the Huffington Post:

Instead of digging through your cabinets or going to your local grocery store for donated items, you go online to a virtual food drive Web site. Once there, you simply select the items you want to donate, add them to your shopping cart, and then complete the donation through a checkout process. It works just like most online shopping Web sites.

Here’s one big drawback I see. One of the appeals of a food drive is the chance to do a spring cleaning of sorts in your pantry or fridge. What food did you buy that you won’t really use? That leads to more donations. When you simply ask people to donate money for food, they have to shell out cash they may have planned to spend elsewhere. The organizers don’t benefit from the sunk cost of people having bought food they aren’t going to use. Let’s not bury the virtual food drive, but it isn’t perfect.

5. A Snapchat made for executives. Via Jena McGregor:

Jon Brod and Howard Lerman envision the service as a way for professionals to share off-the-record information digitally without it being permanently archived. 

From news about deals to candid assessments of job candidates to gossip about a boss, the types of messages Confide’s founders expect will be sent most often could make it a digital water cooler of sorts. “Gossiping about your coworkers—that’s happening already,” Lerman said. “It’s impermanent and confidential. Email and text don’t let you do that.”

Matt McFarland is the editor of Innovations. He's always looking for the next big thing. You can find him on Twitter and Facebook.

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Matt McFarland · January 10, 2014

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