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How tablets will change the future of TV

Once upon a time in Beijing, I was in a meeting with government officials and I'll admit that I got a bit bored. So, using my Slingbox, I turned my iPad into a TV and streamed a sports programme as the politicians droned on. It was a bit bold, I know, but it's so easy to turn a tablet into a TV. In fact, I regularly attach it to my treadmill and watch any programme I want while working out.

And if tablets owners aren't watching TV using their tablets, it's likely that they are watching TV next to their tablets. A recent Business Insider report summary confirmed this, stating that 85 per cent of tablet owners say they watch TV while also using their tablets.

The gist of the report is that a "second screen," as it is known in the smart TV community, is used to enhance the TV viewing experience. The chart below comes from the report and shows how people actually use mobile devices while watching TV.

This second screen trend isn't really a big surprise, though, considering the form factor makes it easy to sit on the sofa and – thanks to our abilities to multitask – surf the web, search for info related to the TV programme we’re watching, or even follow up on an ad we might have just seen. Tablets are comfortable to hold, convenient to read on, and – next to our smartphones – are the most portable PC-like device we have in our homes.

How we use tablets with TVs today is ad hoc and often driven by our whims and curiosity. Yet these second screens have a lot of potential to drive a real revolution in the way we view and interact with the TV and related content.

Many analysts believe that the looming Apple TV concept revolves around how iOS devices will be able to work with a TV. Knowing Apple as I do, I would not be surprised if this TV system also includes an SDK for writing dedicated TV apps, as well as a connection to its rich ecosystem of content and services.

The future may embrace a TV that is just one of the major screens in our digital lives, and gets its brains from things like smart TV boxes or perhaps even tablets and smartphones that can project their content onto TV screens.

Although the idea of a smart TV has been around for some time, only recently have we seen some serious attempts to create dedicated mobile and TV apps to enhance the viewing experience. A few weekends back, at a two day code hacking competition at Apps World North America in Silicon Valley, about 100 developers battled to build apps to disrupt and enrich the TV viewing experience.

"The goal here was to marry together the creatives with the technologists and see what they could come up with. And with such a vibrant transmedia community here in the Bay Area, where the storytellers and coders work so well together, we feel we had to bring the HackFest to the cutting edge," HackFest founder Richard Kastelein told the San Jose Mercury News.

That article goes on to read: "The HackFest took place at what seems to be the golden era in New Television as technology upends the way content is being created, delivered and consumed." It cites a survey by Rovi Corporation that reports that "84 per cent of connected TV owners regularly use TV apps, and 80 per cent of people who are planning to buy a Samsung HDTV or Blu-ray player are interested in becoming connected because of the content portal."

A Reuters article from CES explains that the entertainment industry believes tablets are ready for prime-time: "Television makers, networks and movie studios are embracing the tablet and developing original content and software to drive audience interaction and new advertising revenue after initially dismissing mobile devices as a distraction."

Although there is a lot of activity around TV apps and tablets, the big shoe to drop in this space will be what Apple finally brings to market. At the moment, most of the TV apps and services are individual islands, but Apple has the ability to bring all of the pieces together once it launches a new and disruptive product.

Apple's approach to new products consistently unites hardware, software, and services seamlessly and if the past is any guide, it could be the company that defines this "New Television" era. However, with so much movement in the smart TV market and with dedicated TV apps being developed for various platforms, Apple's offering could be challenged pretty quickly, even if it is more cohesive.