I hadn’t planned on writing about YouView again so soon, but one of the things I’ve noticed is that there are some elements of the tech press and other savvy folk who are writing it off, and a bit prematurely, I think.
I overheard some people at the press launch talking about how easy it is to plug your PC into the TV set, to watch catch-up content; some folk commenting on the RegHardware article have talked about how you can do most of the stuff with XBMC.
And honestly, people, I think that’s completely missing the point. You might be able to connect a PC up to the television set, whether via HDMI or the VGA port on the back of the telly, but an awful lot of people can’t. And even if you hook it all up for them – hands up who’s installed Freeview or another digital TV service for parents or relatives – will they be able to find their way around it?
How many times have you had someone call to ask you what button it was they have to press to get the digibox? Or why there’s no sound, when the TV’s turned up full, or how exactly they find the programme they’re sure they recorded yesterday?
Of course, not everyone has these problems; but you’d be surprised by how many people do. How many of them just expect TV to work in more or less the way it always used to, but might still want to have access to something like iPlayer for a programme they’ve missed. Without having to remember which input the PC is connected to, and wait for it to start, and then phone you up and say “There’s a message here about installing updates; what should I click?”
It’s very easy, especially for those of us in the tech world who get to play with cool new gadgets every day, and can find our way around new technology in an instant, to forget that for a lot of people this is still bewildering. One web site I run occasionally elicits cries of “it doesn’t work” from people who can’t describe a PC problem in any more detail – ask them what browser they’re using and, honestly, I’ve had people ask me what a browser is.
Put simply, this shit is too complicated for the living room.
YouView, by contrast, makes things a lot simpler; now, I’ve not had hours of hands on time – hopefully I can get that soon – but it’s clear that it really does integrate everything seamlessly. And while it might be fashionable for the tech press to sneer, or to point out that you could do all this with a few different boxes, and remembering what’s available on which input to your TV, for a lot of users that’s not the point.
One box, one remote, and one way of doing things. The actual technology under the hood of YouView may not be massively ground-breaking, but the way it’s pulled together really is.
And if the tech-obsessed want a metaphor to explain why that’s so important – and why YouView will appeal to people – remember Symbian and iOS.
Long before the iPhone, Nokia made smart phones with Symbian. You could install third part apps on them, you could play back media, you could take photos, and share them via email or online services. You could do lots of great stuff. But all too often you had to jump through hoops.
And then along came iOS. You didn’t have to jump through hoops. Sure, it wasn’t (and in some areas still isn’t) as full featured as a Symbian handset. But what it did was ensure that ‘ordinary’ people, rather than techies, could get most of what they wanted, easily, and without fuss.
Sure, you can carry on plugging your PC into the TV because you find it easy and convenient, just like I can carry on using my Symbian phone because some things just can’t be done on iOS.
But while you’re doing that, remember, that for many people it’s not just the technology that’s important. It’s making it simple and straightforward. To paraphrase the Chatterley trial, you might be technical, but would you want your wife or servants to use Symbian?
Perhaps, with the launch of YouView, old style connected TV is having its Symbian moment.