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technology review January/February 2011
In 2005, our group at Intel took a fresh
approach. Instead of trying to build a
television with PC-like features, we asked
people how their TV experience could
be improved. Instead of starting with
assumptions about how TV had to change,
we began by finding out what people
loved about it.
Our ethnographers visited India, Japan,
the U.K ., and the United States, some-
times watching people watch TV, some-
times watching with them. We wanted to
understand how people lived with their
TVs and the other people around them.
The results directly informed the design of
the processors at the heart of new devices
like those running Google’s TV software
and D-link’s Boxee Box (see “Searching for
the Future of Television,” p. 32).
The first thing we learned was that
people love TV just as it is. They love their
shows and they love its simplicity. TV is
always there and doesn’t ask too much of
them. A story they care about is always
just one button away. When we asked
people what they would want from a TV
with computing power, they didn’t talk
about computing. They talked about TV.
Their top three answers were that they
want access to their regular broadcast
TV, want access to broadcasts they have
missed, and want to know what shows
their friends recommend.
Delivering on all three requests does
require computing. Giving viewers the
shows they missed takes a combination
of DVR and Web services. Telling them
what friends enjoy is a mix of social net-
working and automatic recommendations.
But it doesn’t require building a TV that
behaves and feels like a computer. Recog-
nizing that, using social science to inform
computer science, has given us a new gen-
eration of smart TV devices like nothing
that has come before. Let’s hope they fare
better than their predecessors.
GeNe vieve Bell is di r ector oF i Nte ractioN a Nd expe-
rieNce research at iNtel; BriaN david JohNsoN is a
Futurist aNd director oF Future castiNG.
success for vehicles with a plug,
not a gas cap, rests on more than
technology, says dan sperling.
The history of alternative transporta-
tion fuels is a history of failure. It is a
story of one fuel du jour after another—a
frustrating cycle of media and political
hype followed by disillusionment and
The cycle is all too familiar, from syn-
fuels in the late 1970s to methanol in the
’80s, and then electric vehicles, hydrogen,
and ethanol. Only corn ethanol has sur-
vived in the United States, but it would be
a stretch to call it a success, given its big
carbon footprint and relatively high cost
(subsidized at about $6 billion per year in
the United States today). A new wave of
electric vehicles are now at risk of enter-
ing the cycle again.
Replacing petroleum will be difficult
and slow. Its hegemony creates huge bar-
riers for new fuels, in terms of econom-
ics, legal liability, public skepticism, and
media sensationalism. Our three best
hopes—hydrogen, electricity, and biofu-
els—all face large challenges.
Hydrogen would require us to trans-
form our fuel supply system. Electricity
must overcome the shortcomings of bat-
teries (see “Will Electric Vehicles Finally
Succeed?” p. 58). Advanced biofuels need
a lot of land and leave a large carbon foot-
print. However, no other green energy
technologies will come into being easily
or quickly. At least one of these three—
and probably all—must eventually thrive
if we are to change the kind of energy we
use for transportation.
For plug-in hybrid and all-electric
vehicles, I see two possible scenarios.
The most likely, judging by failed fuels
of the past and recent experiences with
hybrid cars like the Prius, is slow invest-
ment. After 10 years in the U.S. market-
Making television smarter requires
understanding why it is our favor-
ite gadget, Genevieve Bell and
Brian david Johnson argue.
Do you want a Web browser on your
TV? If history is any indication, your
answer is probably a resounding no. We
don’t blame you.
In the past few decades, the technol-
ogy industry has labored under the delu-
sion that consumers would love their
TV sets to behave like computers. Many
tombstones now stand in place of devices
built by very smart people, with incred-
ibly smart technology inside, that made
no impact. Our own company, Intel, had
multiple failed attempts.
Even today, with more consumer elec-
tronics to choose from than ever before,
the TV remains the most-used electronic
device in the home. It is often at the cen-
ter of our living rooms and bedrooms. It
is where we go to relax and to gather with
friends and family. For many, watching
TV defines being at home.
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