Samsung’s Smart TV Voice Control Sucks. As Expected.

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I bought myself one of Samsung’s new Smart TVs the other day. I’ve been using the voice feature for a while and must say, I’m pretty disappointed. Or not so much disappointed, as I was somehow expecting the voice implementation to be way subpar. And boy it is.

I’ve been using Siri for a while now, so I know how a well-implemented voice interface can look like. (Even though I’m not 100% happy with Siri either, which I will write about later). Samsung’s promise is to control your TV simply with your voice. The obvious functions would be volume&channel control, and powering the device on and off.

Let’s start with the volume. The TV can go up to volume 100, but the voice interface only allows you to control volume levels up to 20. That’s just silly and makes it pretty much useless. Furthermore, the recognition of the numbers is pretty inaccurate. When wanting to control the volume relatively, you can say “volume up” and “volume down”, but that will change the level in increments of 1, which again is pretty silly, as that will hardly make any difference. Jumps of 5 or 10 (or configurable increments) would’ve made way more sense.

Let’s move on to channel switching. In a typical set up with a digital DVR or some other external device feeding in the TV content, the channel function obviously doesn’t work at all. You’re not using the channels of the TV, rather the channel lineup of your DVR. The channel switching function therefore is rendered completely obsolete. Even if you use the TV channel lineup, you can only say numeric channel numbers, not the channel names. Again, that is very silly.

Turning the TV on and off works reasonably well. No complaints there. (On the other hand, as you usually have to turn on your DVR as well, you have to reach out to a remote control either way, in which case you might as well hit the button on your TV control as well).

What else can you do? You can control the source for the signal (to switch between the different HDMI inputs). That’s a good idea, however, the implementation again is suboptimal. You first have to say “Hi TV” to turn on voice control. Then “source”, then wait it to be recognized, then “source 2″ or “source 3″ etc., instead of simply saying “source 2″ or “source 3″ right away. So it makes you go through two commands instead of one (or rather: 3, instead of 2). Needless to say how silly that is.

I could go on like that, but I think you get the idea. The voice feature in the end is pretty useless. And I do understand the challenges with a room microphone versus one that is close to your face, but still, don’t advertise a functioning smart TV if it is not functioning, and not very smart. (And I’m not even talking about the gesture control, which is another pretty useless feature).

I can’t wait for Apple to come out with a really smart TV. That will be the next device category that they could revolutionize completely (and will, if they try, no doubt about that). Go on, Apple, it’s your turn.

PS: I almost completely dictated this post using Siri on my iPad, sometimes whole paragraphs at once, with only a few edits necessary.
PPS: I’m not an Apple fanatic. But I am impressed with a company that turns around 3 industries in a timeframe of a few years (MP3 players, cell phones & mobile carriers, and tablet PCs). And I appreciate a company that “gets” how important usability is these days.
PPPS: I love the picture quality of the TV; overall, I would probably give this device 4/5 on Amazon. I didn’t buy it for voice&gesture control, but for bright HD, good 3D, and picture quality, which is where it excels.
PPPPS: If anyone from the Samsung product team reads this and wants to rectify any false observations, I’d be happy to adjust my post and retweet.

How much does it take to make the mobile Apple user go somewhere else?

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My company is Apple’s largest business customer in central Florida. Each new hire receives a brand new iPhone and a MacBook Pro. That’s quite impressive. Having been a Windows user all my life, it took me a while to fall in love with the idea of a new OS, but it didn’t take too long in the end. The Apple OS and the entire ecosystem is truly attractive and impressive for the frequent user. Believe it or not, I’m not much of a hacker when it comes to using my computer. I want it to work and focus on what I create or process with it; I don’t like to focus on it itself too much. So the Apple system appeals to me.

I’ve become a fan of its simplicity, of its love for the detail, and of its quality. I have tolerated Apple’s closed nature so far, but the recent moves frustrated me. Introducing their own maps is fine. Being Apple, I expected a high quality product that by itself would convince me to move away from Google. That’s how a free market works. But they didn’t give me that choice. They deprived me of the most used app on my iPhone, Google Maps. And they replaced it with a product that is sub-par. What’s more, they deprived me of the second-most used app on my iPhone (and iPad), YouTube. And they replaced it with… nothing. YouTube’s strength is its content. Like Facebook’s strength is its user base. By definition, Apple CANNOT come up with a similar product. It would’ve taken years to grow similar content. So, without asking me or any other of their users, they have taken the app away. Here I am, searching the AppStore for something that comes close…

What the heck Apple? Don’t do that to your users! You created a whole new market with your two latest products, and that’s a phenomenal achievement. But the competition is getting stronger and stronger. Don’t risk your reputation (of creating quality products) with moves like this. To be honest, you’ve always had a bad reputation for your closedness, so removing YouTube might almost be considered “in character”… Bad enough!