Jumping on the tail-end of the bandwagon, Panasonic's rolling out a new and improved Smart TV hub. The features list is certainly comprehensive, but a disturbing number of the things it's crowing about are totally and utterly pointless. Screw that, they're just plain stupid.
To quickly give some background: Panasonic's launched a new and improved Smart TV concept, which they call 'my Home Screen'. (I know -- home screens, so ground-breaking right?). The concept is basically a hub for TV and apps (seen above), customisable for each user -- you know, like a home screen. To its credit, Panasonic has also created fairly decent iOS and Android apps that let you navigate the Smart TV interface, though there are problems with the app that I'll come to in a moment.
The problem isn't the home screen concept -- truth be told, it's actually pretty nifty, and has a lot going for it. No, the problem lies with all the useless crap Panasonic's felt the need to cram in there. For example, there's a Notes app. Whoopdeedoo. Because there's nothing better than sticking a shopping list on a massive screen.
And let's not forget, in order to do this totally pointless thing (put notes onto a giant screen), you've had to fiddle around with the slightly dodgy text-entry system on your tablet/phone. (Fun story -- when I tried the notes demo, text wouldn't 'go' from the tablet to the TV. It took two Panasonic reps five minutes and a reboot or two to get 'Hello Panasonic' up on the big screen.) And if you're fiddling around with the tablet app, it means your purposely ignoring several, far better notes apps (Evernote, the default notes app, Google Docs, etc) in favour of some crappy home-brewed system.
What should have been on the TV screen
What was actually on the TV screen
It's the same with a lot of the features. Yeah, there's a bit of good stuff -- easy sharing of photos onto a TV is definitely a useful feature -- but overall, a lot of the apps kinda seem like they're there for the sake of it. Notes. The browser. Facebook. Half-arsed voice recognition that requires a stand-alone microphone thing. The list goes on and painfully on.
Sadly, it's all part of a trend. Fridges with Twitter. Radios with Twitter. Twitter for all! Now, you might not think that it's a problem -- the more features, the merrier, you might think. But there's a hell of a lot to be said for minimalism. Panasonic's motto for their new Smart TV lineup is "Smart TV Made Simple". But honestly, by cramming in features like sardines into a particularly small tin, they've made the platform really quite tricky to handle: look at the smartphone app below -- hardly a role model for simple and elegant design. (And the iOS app is even worse. Not to mention, every time you touch the screen it makes a little DING! noise that makes you want to kill yourself.)
At the risk of being accused of being an Apple fanboy, simplicity is something that Apple has traditionally done quite well. Sure, iOS doesn't have the depth of features that Android does, but by being really, really good at the stuff it does do, Apple sells to people. This approach would work even better with Smart TV. Panasonic, and most TV companies to be honest, bang on about TVs not being "just TVs -- they're so much more". And I agree -- there are some other things that a TV can do really well. But, ultimately, it's about the worst place imaginable to browse Facebook. It's just that companies have this bizarre but well-held view that "social" and "apps" are the way forwards, so they cripple their products with endless versions of them.
So, I've come to something of a plea. Companies, keep innovating -- it's superb to see the advancements you've made. But, please, swear on your sacred plasma panels that you're going to think before ramming every last feature into a product. Consider carefully what people really want and need and will use, because I have a sinking feeling that the Notes app -- and dozens of crappy features like it -- will never get used outside of a showroom.