The Trials And Torments of Twittering On The TV

Published on 27 May 2009 in , , , , , ,

I recently had a go using a new TV. Not that special except that the TV in question had an Ethernet connection going into it, meaning the world of internet delivered content was available. The presence of a back channel meant that communication to the viewer was no longer one way (of course, cable TV has had this technology for years however companies haven’t made particularly much use out of it.)

The TV had several different kinds of internet based applications from photo viewing to reading sports headlines. But as a social media addict it was the Twitter app (official or unofficial, I don’t know) that interested me most. So I logged in and gave it a go.

All the usual stuff was there – read tweets, replies, direct messages and of course the ability to send a tweet from your TV. So clearly I had to give it a go.

The message was typed via an onscreen keyboard – cursor keys were used to select the letter you wanted. It was a rather slow and tiring mechanism taking me probably five times longer than it would to send a SMS via my mobile. I wasn’t in a particular mood to try it again.

The trials of actually entering text via a remote control is something I think of every time someone mentions how we could all be using the TV to communicate to each other – a suggestion I’ve heard or read several times over the years.

There’s been many attempts.

Bush had a range of Internet TVs that had remotes where you could flip it open and reveal a small keyboard – indeed Sky have also tried doing this with a Sky+ remote. But it was too small and fiddly.

Sky and at least one of the companies that now form Virgin Media both tried big keyboards that rested on your lap, but they never took off. I tried one once and the keyboard was too light and flimsy, so would move as you tried to use it. It wasn’t comfortable, even compared to the fact that many people use laptop PCs.

And of course on screen keyboards are rather klunky and slow too. The search mechanism on my PVR uses this method and I do my best to enter as few characters as possible to save my sanity. With search you can get away with it, but typing out up to 140 characters that way would drive me mad.

The most obvious answer is, of course, SMS style entry via your remote control. But when this obvious solution has problems like the fact that many remotes don’t map the letters to keys. Of the five remotes on my desk at work, only two did. Of course regular texters won’t have too much of a problem, but there’s another problem in that many remote controls aren’t designed very well for such long input. Some have very small, fidley buttons, or rather spongy keypresses. All in all, not designed for typing a tweet out on.

If there is an answer – besides designing better remote controls (and hey, these things are built to a price point, so no one seems to want to do that) is perhaps using mobiles themselves.

Connected to the TV via bluetooth, SMS if you must, or a newer phones able to connect via wifi, or just send via the humble SMS, it makes the ideal entry mechanism. We all know how to text via the phone and they tend to be designed for such things by default. For applications where you don’t need to link the text input up directly with what’s on screen, it could well be the perfect solution.