Boston’s Litl to Bring Simplicity–and Flash—to Big-Screen Televisions

5/12/10Follow @wroush

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touchpad, and it will likely have an accelerometer. Most importantly, the SDK will have access to the remote, so that Flash developers can develop some amazing applications that tap into it.

X: I assume you’re going to continue to use Flash as your basic operating environment on the set-top box.

JC: We think the Flash universe is the best universe for now. There are lots of developers, there are lots of existing apps that can be imported very easily, and most importantly, there are tools available to build really compelling applications. Some people look at the Webbook and say, “Wow, this is a Flash computer!” That being said, our browser is certainly all ready for HTML 5, and capable of doing that. But we think the best applications today are in Flash, and we plan to optimize our device to play great Flash on the TV. If you want to build a Flash app for TVs, we are going to be the best mechanism.

X: Do you see the set-top box as a supplement to the Webbook, or an alternative to it, or a replacement for it?

JC: This device works independently of the Webbook, but at the same time plays really nicely with the Webbook. You don’t need a Webbook to work it, and you will get all the great functions of the Litl OS. Everything you can do on a Webbook you will be able to do on this device, except for the inherently portable parts of it. Because it’s one operating system up in the cloud, everything is totally synchronized—if you had a Webbook and our set-top box, everything will sync. When you make a change on one or add a channel, it will automatically appear on the other. Later down the road we see apps coming that utilize both machines, so that perhaps the TV is showing one thing and the Webbook is showing another but together they are forming a great experience.

X: But it sounds like the set-top box would represent a very different path to market for you than the Webbook. There may be lots of households that wouldn’t be interested in having another laptop-style device around the house but might be interested in having something that makes their existing big-screen TV more useful.

JC: We think it definitely expands the market. The intersection of HDMI-capable TVs and broadband includes 50 million households in the US. So this is definitely a different path to market. It’s about the one screen in the house that is crying out for an Internet connection.

X: But a lot of big players have tried to build boxes that marry broadband, the Web, and TV and have essentially failed. Microsoft tried it with WebTV and failed. Even Apple hasn’t gotten much traction with Apple TV. Does that worry you?

JC: That is what creates the opportunity. I think a lot of interesting things are going to happen over the next two years in this space. Who knows what the connected TV will be. Is it going to be a widgety thing [with new TVs coming with built-in software for connecting to Internet video] or a “TV on TV” thing? There’s a lot that could potentially happen, but we are pretty sure that there is going to be a separate, new device sitting next to the TV that gives people the flexibility not to be locked in. We believe in the TV as monitor rather than the TV as software. The replacement cycle for a big TV is very different from the replacement cycle of a set-top box. In the history of TV, nothing has ever really managed to attach itself to the TV—not VCRs, not DVRs, not gaming consoles. They all tend to be separate, because customers don’t want to lock themselves into certain things. So in our view, there is going to be a box.

Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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