The news that Samsung has acquired Boxee caught me a little by surprise. Boxee is software that I don't use much anymore, but it changed my life. Back in 2009 I first started using Boxee, which was then a fork of XBMC. Initially I was interested in the social aspects of the software, the ability to share and recommend content, but what became increasingly important to me was the presence of web content as a central feature of the user interface.
On Saturday I decided to go out and but the snappily named Sony NSZ-GS7 Internet Player with Google TV, but on Sunday, with great disappointment I took it back. I have been following the Google TV story for some time and was looking forward to it coming to the UK. The price tag of £199 for the box seemed a bit hefty, especially when compared to games consoles but that can sometimes be the price of being an early adopter. I have an Android phone and an Android tablet so a Google TV box would mean that the biggest screen in my house - the TV could be integrated into the Android eco-system. The box would also integrate with my satellite box to some extent, hopefully bringing Internet and broadcast TV closer together. Most of all it is a consumer device so I was hoping that this sort of box would have the potential to change the TV experience for many people. However when I got the box home the disappointment began.
It already looks like 2012 will be an exciting year for Internet connected TVs with a multitude of announcements at this years's International CES. One announcement that particularly caught my eye was by Canonical for Ubuntu TV, a version of the popular GNU/Linux based operating systems that will run on TV sets. Running Linux on consumer hardware is of course nothing new, quite a lot of gadgets in the home are Linux based and many people will be using Linux every day without even realising it (a couple of good examples are Samsung TVs and Bluray players and Humax set top boxes but there are many, many others). There is also no shortage of operating systems for Smart TVs. What is interesting about this announcement is the application of the Unity interface to a completely different context - the TV. Canonical have made the source code for Ubuntu TV available so I decided to check it out and take a look for myself.
*** UPDATE! Now you don't have to say goodbye. The Public Whip has got new people to run it so this app will remain available. There may even be new versions in the future. ***
Sadly due to circumstances beyond my control it looks like I may have to remove the "Your MP" application from the Boxee platform. This is an application I did that was designed for UK users as an easy way to keep up to date with how their Members of Parliament were voting. The application gets a lot of its data from The Public Whip, who recently published an open letter (http://www.publicwhip.org.uk/openletter.php) stating their intention to close down the service as they felt it had become unsustainable. Once this site closes this will of course mean that the "Your MP" app will no longer work and so will have to be discontinued. If the closure goes ahead the last date that the app will be usable is expected to be 27th July 2011. However there may be some hope.
A little while ago I started reading up on Notube, an EU funded project that aims to explore how technology such as Linked Data can be used with televisions to (amongst other aims) produce personalised content. Inspired by this idea I started thinking about a small example that would build upon my earlier blog post How to use Linked Data on the Samsung Internet@TV platform to produce a personalised view of Open University Podcasts. In order for the example to be useful it would need to use data for the personalisation that was easy for the user to supply using just a remote control. I've got as far as producing a simple prototype that hopefully shows some of the potential of this technology.
Although I have been using Boxee for quite a while both as a user and developing apps the closest I have come to seeing a Boxee Box was holding a prototype in my hands, and it wasn't even switched on. So it was a great opportunity to take up PR agency 33 Digital's open invitation to go see one in operation in their offices in London. They are representing Dlink, the hardware manufacturer for the Boxee Box on the social media scene and run the @dlink_boxee_box Twitter account. It was a great chance to have a play with this innovative bit of hardware and explore what it can do.
Having a nettop like the Acer Aspire Revo running Ubuntu and Boxee is a great addition to the living room. One thing that I have been meaning to do for a while though is add a proper way to shut the unit down from the remote control when I have finished using it. Walking across the room and using the power button just doesn't seem to be appropriate for a set top box experience! I followed the instructions I found on the Boxee forum to add this feature, but instead of changing the Suspend button into a power off button I decided to add a new button to the log out dialogue. Fortunately this was quite a straightforward procedure.
I am delighted to announce the release of a new application for Boxee: “Your MP”. The details and background to this application can be found in my original blog post about it: “An experimental Boxee app to keep track of how your MP votes” and at the time I said that if there was sufficient interest in it I would develop it further and release it. I am really pleased that there was interest and thank you to everybody who took the time to comment, tweet and spread the word about the app, I hope you enjoy it now you can use it! Since the original post I have added a couple of extra features too.
Google have now announced that they are to move into the Internet TV market with a platform named “Google TV”. This will aim to bring the world of web content to your TV screen in an easy to use way making video podcasts as easy to find and watch as regular TV programmes. It will not be a single product, but will be available in various products from set top boxes to televisions with the functionality built in. The announcement also came with the news that Google is working with big name partners such as Sony, Intel, Logitech and Adobe to make the product a reality. Engadget has a pretty good round up of the news in its article: Google TV: Everything you ever wanted to know. I believe that this is a very significant announcement and here is why.
We are experiencing interesting times politically in the UK. Maybe many at one point were happy to elect a Member of Parliament once every five years and pretty much let them get on with it. Talking about politics could make people feel uncomfortable, but a wave of recent events such as the expenses scandal and the Digital Economy Act have started to change that. With the election producing a hung parliament every vote of an MP could make or break proposed legislation, but do you know how your MP is voting? There are already excellent websites where you can find this out, but recently I started to wonder if an Internet TV platform like Boxee could be useful in this area, so I built an experimental “app” to try the idea out. Could finding out how your MP votes be like checking the football scores on Ceefax?