webOS at the CES 2014

A big webOS logo at CES 2014
Image: LG Electronics

You may have seen some excitement on the internet about LG’s launch of the webOS TV. We have waited a year and we learned we’d see it in San Francisco in February.  Well thanks to CES 2014 we got to see it a month early.  pivotCE is learning everything as quickly as we can about LG webOS and while we can’t offer new information, here are our first thoughts after LG’s press conference at CES today.  

What we already knew

We saw a leak of the interface by @evleaks ahead of CES and The Verge showed some shots of the exhibition stand and the new LG webOS logo.  We also heard that webOS will appear on 70% of LG’s Smart TV range thanks to the twitter-sphere and the interface will offer three main features:  simple connection, simple switching, and simple discovery.

What we learned – Simplicity

Simple connection offers an animated character called ‘Bean Bird‘ to introduce the setup process and the features of the system.  While there have already been comparisons made to the annoying MS paperclip, one reason put forward for the lack of traction for webOS on phones was that people didn’t at first ‘get’ how integrated the various parts of webOS were.  If there’s a good introduction to all features and use, this can only help.  We just have to hope that ‘cute’ characters get out of the way before they become annoying.  The Verge reports that the Bean Bird goes away after only asking if you’re sure you want to skip the setup once.  I’m not sure who would be so excited to see the TV that they would skip enabling wifi and other key smart-tv aspects but in the event that person is you…it seems Bean Bird will begrudgingly agree and leave you alone.

Simple switching it seems, is the card interface and the ability to move easily between multi-tasking app cards.  There is a past area of apps you’ve used recently, a future area with apps you have available, and a current area where you can pin favorite apps or even inputs.  The input functionality is smart enough to not only detect when you plug in a device and even auto-pin itself to your current page but also name the input appropriately.  The example they used is…plug in a PS4 and the TV auto-pins the input and names it “PS4”.  Nice.

Simple discovery proposes a streamlined process for discovering content on the TV.  Seems simple enough.

Features and apps

LG are also trailing voice and gesture control – though how this works with a remote control will be interesting to see.  Gestures and voice have already appeared with the ‘magic remote’ on previous models.

Released images show apps for Hulu, Amazon, Netflix, Twitter, and MLB.tv in addition to the usual Youtube, Facebook, Twitter etc.  Our big questions: if they’re enyo can they be ported to current webOS devices?  LG purchased legacy webOS which is the code foundational to current devices so it seems that it may be possible.  Of course, we wonder the same thing in reverse and we’re not alone…

The Press Conference

The keynote emphasised simple connectivity across devices.  They began with LG home chat from a mobile phone (Android) that enables natural language interaction with devices around the home. Next, a brief mention of the Gflex phone.

Straight on to webOS with a big logo on the screen.  Mr. Skott Ahn described it as the “simplest and most intuitive user experience” and stated that “webOS possibilities were applied FIRST to TVs”.  This could suggest other devices will follow.  He said it, and we’re clinging to the sliver of hope!

After the introduction, the presentation went straight into a short trailer video with brief glimpses of the experience.  The video began with a cartoon of a round bird.  This is Bean Bird – named after it’s shape.  It appears to be more of a video guide than annoying pop-up helper.  These were glimpses of the simple connection guide where the bird encourages users to fully set up and explore the potential of the device.

Simple switching was next.  The webOS cards – now with a slanting shape, lie in a line at the bottom of the screen and they bounce on mouse over with a kind of wave ripple effect.  The interface looks slick and appears to move smoothly.

Then it was on to simple discovery to help find content from all sources.  This appears to be a card display that groups all currently available media together for the user to choose.  They constantly reitereated the message that LG is using webOS to Simplify Smart TVs.

Mr. Ahn then introduced Mr. Reed Hastings, the CEO of Netflix, who emphasised the connected nature of webOS paired with the pointer that is the magic remote.  He said the new series of their drama, “House of Cards” is being produced in 4K resolution.

And that was it!  Bummer.  LG hopes to, “Make TV Simple again” and say, “webOS made it possible for us to really simplify and improve user experience”.  As convoluted as Android user interfaces have become let’s hope they reinvent the simplicity within cell phones as well.  hint hint  You can watch the entire address below.

Usability and LG plans

If you want to take a closer look at the interface, we encourage you to watch the first look on the webOS TV from The Verge.

Interaction with the TV is through the existing ‘Magic Remote’ control.  Voice & gesture are also claimed to be available, but weren’t shown.  Most of the services you’d expect appear to be available.

LG says webOS will be deployed on 70% of Smart TVs and all of its Ultra HD range, releasing first in Korea before the rest of the world. LG’s largest model is 105 inches – that’s a big tablet…er, TV!

When it comes to mobile, there is no news.  Any devices shown, even those connecting to other appliances were Android models, but this is what we expected.  LG have developed a system called “Home Chat” which allow devices from LG’s various businesses to communicate with each other.  LG’s HomeChat messenger screenshot shows an Android interface and appears to be based on the popular South Korean-based LINE messenger.

Final thoughts

An important thing to take away is that LG is pushing webOS.  It will be on ALL high end Ultra HD TVs and was regularly mentioned by name throughout the presentation in relation to TVs.  They clearly believe in the system, but it still remains to be seen if it will be deployed to other systems – especially mobile.

So there you have it for now.  Is it the future of television or is this house of cards going to collapse again?  The comment box is below.

LG's Bean Bird Character from the webOS TV.
Image: Bean Bird – LG Electronics

Featured Image via The Verge

4 thoughts on “webOS at the CES 2014”

  1. 1) To know if old webOS apps will run on webOS TVs, look for a web browser. If you can’t click, drag and type, old apps won’t be usable. (Whether LG makes any provision for 3rd party apps is a distinct question.)

    2) A shim library that smooths the differences between webOS on TVs and Firefox OS on TVs would increase the number of apps for both.

    1. Hi Doug,

      Thanks for your comment. LG webOS definitely has a web browser on the TV. One of the pictures here: http://www.imore.com/lg-spills-all-bean-birds-webos-tv-gets-first-crack-netflix-4k shows an onscreen keyboard. Text entry of some sort would be needed to set up WiFi passwords and the like. LG are encouraging app development in Enyo. How far the redesigned interface will interact with existing apps remains to be seen, but part one of your query seems to have some promising answers. Part 2 offers interesting possibilities.

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