Tivo — Dying young, but leaving a great-looking corpse
December 8, 2004
If there’s a tougher user interface to get right than an interface for an intelligent TV device, I don’t wanna meet it. I was involved with a project trying to do content management on TVs back in ‘97, and the problems involved in coming up with something powerful that looks good and is as easy to use 10 feet from the TV as the TV itself are immense. The project died (several times—there must have been a shortage of wooden stakes) for other reasons, but we never came up with anything half as good as the Tivo interface has been since day one.
Matt Haughey has a great interview with Tivo’s Margret Schmidt, the person responsible for making their interface happen. If you’ve ever thought great interfaces “just happen”, you really need to read this to appreciate how much work and thought goes into making an experience that is truely intuitive and easy to use.
Unfortunately, as much as I love the interface, it’s slowly ceasing to be enough. I’ve not been happy with their closed system for quite some time (sure you can hack a Tivo to add functionality and capacity, but it’s a pain in the butt, and you’re risking a nasty tail-chase should they decide to shut you out.)
I’m even less happy about recent indications that they’re liable to use their ability to update the systems remotely to appease content owners and advertisers. Of course, that’s a sign of the times, and I understand that doing so is probably a matter of survival for them, but that doesn’t make it any more pleasant.
Unless they can come up with a solution that allows them to do HDTV on cable and satellite competitively with the crappier systems that the providers are offering cheaply, I’m afraid that their days are numbered anyway. Ubiquity and low price points have cost many superior products the market, and the Tivo is likely to end up as just another dead body along the road to technological mediocrity.
If that’s the case, as their position weakens, I’m afraid that we’ll see things like transitional fair use catered to. Worse, since Tivo can remotely update systems that are already deployed, these kind of “features” might just turn up one day on the systems we are using now.
When and if that starts happening, it will be a sad day indeed—when “upgrades” start to take away your ability to use a device the way you want to use it, it’s time to start looking elsewhere.
I still love my Tivo, but I think it’s about time to move on…