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Trying to make sense of LG, the WebOS acquisition and Smart TV Alliance

Mike Wolf Future of TV HTML5 LG smart tv Web OS

As many of you now know, LG has acquired the much-travelled WebOS from HP and intends to use it across a variety of products, the first of which is smart TV. The first smart TVs with WebOS are expected to be released in 2014.

Up until now, LG has used its own smart TV stack and app framework, which used to be called NetCast. NetCast, as I understand it, is based on a Linux distro and a Webkit HTML5 browser, etc.  NetCast is separate from the LG line of Google TVs, which came later.

With the news they've decided to acquire WebOS, it looks to me like LG is trying to update their own smart TV stack, replacing what was NetCast with a WebOS based offering.  

Unfortunately for Google, this also means the Google TV line could be phased out, especially given these words from LG President Skott Ahn:

“We would like to make WebOS our key software platform in the future, starting from smart TV in the near future.”  He added that a second objective is to “invest in the talent and research capability of the program [and] to incorporate this new capability into our software and user experience.”

But what I wondered was what does this mean for the Smart TV Alliance? It's an important question, particularly since LG is a cofounder of the Smart TV Alliance and has been the the biggest proponent of the effort as a way to reduce platform fragmentation.

Further, what I would want to know, in particular, is whether adding WebOS actually increases fragmentation? After all, doesn't adding yet another OS to the variety of Linux distros, Android and the occasional iOS or Windows variant that app developers have to deal with for TV apps make things more fragmented than before?

My guess is both a yes and no. The main goal of the Smart TV Alliance is to push app developers into using a common HTML5 development framework, complete with their own SDK and a common set of APIs. Given that the focus for smart TV apps in general is moving to HTML5 and this is the central framework for the Smart TV Alliance, I am not convinced that LG's move to WebOS is a problem here. 

However, I do think what LG Smart TV GM Samuel Change told The Verge is intriguing: 

"Chang said that he sees webOS and its underlying HTML-based Enyo framework as being key to solving the "fragmentation issue" with smart TVs that all have different platforms."

Is it just me, or does Chang seeing the Enyo framework as the key for ending the smart TV fragmentation issue - while saying nothing about the Smart TV Alliance or its own SDK - seem a bit strange? After all, hasn't it been LG evangelizing the Smart TV Alliance for over the past 12 months as the key to, well, ending smart TV fragmentation? 

But now, it's all Enyo and Web OS!

Ok, I understand that one of the key principles of the Smart TV Alliance is to allow for differentiation up and down the stack. I understand it's goal is to provide a common framework for apps based on HTML5. All that is clearly still possible for LG with this move to WebOS, since WebOS is built upon a Webkit engine with native HTML5 support. 

But I do think all of these pronouncements make it unclear how committed LG is to the Smart TV alliance and that it would be a good idea for them to more clearly spell just how committed they are in the wake of this deal.

For more info on the Smart TV marketplace and for detailed forecasts of the connected living room, see NextMarket Insights' latest report, Connected Living Room Market Forecast: 2013-2017.

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