A Mouse in the House
Today, the folks from Hillcrest Labs visited me at my home to show off their latest version of what they call an “operating system for the television,” which they had first shown off as a demo at the D3 in May 2005. The Rockville, Md.-based company is one of many trying to reinvent the television navigation experience, complete with a remote control that is a round, motion-controlled device called the “Loop,” pictured here (and you can also see the pictures and video of the Hillcrest demo at D3 here).
Their visually based navigation system, which swoops in and out like a helicopter, is an attempt to free the consumer from the onerous and frustrating grid system that has used up too many minutes of consumers’ life. The centerpiece is obviously the Loop, which is moved about in the air somewhat like a mouse on a desktop and with only a few buttons and scroll wheel. It is certainly a welcome change from other remotes, most of which require you to have a degree in astrophysics to understand properly. I will be interviewing Hillcrest CEO Dan Simpkins again with others at a panel at the National Cable & Telecommunications Association’s annual show next Monday afternoon in Las Vegas, called “Everything I Need to Know I Learned from the iPod: Defining the Consumer Experience.”
There and in this column, I will be particularly focused on the ongoing issue of making television more interactive. It has been a minor obsession of mine, since I sat in on the pitch meeting the founders of TiVo did before venture capitalists back in 1997. At the time, after a day of sitting through a series of inane dot-com ideas, I was thrilled when this groundbreaking concept of control of the television experience was offered, even if TiVo’s business success has not been as profound.
That feels like an eon and a lot of false starts ago (oh, I had and then didn’t have WebTV). But, perhaps because consumers are finally comfortable watching video on the Web, it seems like the idea of truly incorporating these ideas may have finally come. TiVo has recently unveiled cool new abilities to put personal and Web videos on the television, big players like Apple and Microsoft are deep into the game with major offerings (after years of efforts) and small outfits like Slingbox (which allows you to “sling” content to a myriad of devices) are gaining traction. And, of course, despite the problems with its straps coming undone and minor mayhem following, consumer enthusiasm for the Nintendo Wii system is part of the same trend.
“This is about consumer choice and simplicity,” said Hillcrest’s Simpkins to me today. As it always has been.