It's software, built into a TV or disc player, that lets "widgets" run on said TV or disc player. It's like an internet browser for your TV, in a certain sense, and an iPhone or Android-style app store in another. Twitter, Facebook, and USAToday.com all run on your computer through a browser like Internet Explorer or Firefox; now they run on your TV through Yahoo Connected TV. It's a closed platform, so users can't freely browse the web, but they can download as many free widgets as they please (up to the 120-widget limit, anyway). In a nutshell, Yahoo Connected TV is like the operating system that acts as the bridge between the widgets (software) and your TV (hardware).
How many widgets could I download right now?
50, with about 100 "in the pipeline," according to Schafer. Anyone who registers to download the development kit can develop a widget, whether it's an official Twitter program or some niche widget to follow a high school sports team. Yahoo has to approve it, for quality control purposes, but it's reasonably democratic like most other app platforms.
Yahoo claims to have 7,400 registered TV widget developers, which seems like an awfully high number for just 50 widgets, even if 100 more are coming. It sounds like whoever downloads the development kit becomes a registered developer. Maybe I'll join the club.
How are TV widgets different from widgets on a personal computer or mobile phone?
It has to do with the hardware. TV widgets are designed to be used from across the room and with a remote control. Phone widgets are meant to be used from a few inches away, on a touch-screen interface.
What widgets can I get?
Check out a short list on the Yahoo Connected TV website.
How does this all work?
Press a button on the remote to bring up the interface. You can access the widgets you have, or download new ones. Most of the widgets run alongside TV shows and movies. For example, an NBA Playoffs widgets displays supplementary stats and standings based on the live game commentary. Pretty cool.
Yeah this does sound pretty cool. Why hasn't it become a big deal?
Up until recently, it's only been available on new TVs. People don't buy new TVs very often, so not too many users have access to Yahoo Connected TV. Also, speaking as someone who spends all day reading tech industry updates, Yahoo just hasn't done a very good job of spreading the word about Connected TV. The website doesn't even describe it well. Few people know what it can do, so nobody gets excited about it.
Google TV was announced last week. What does that mean for Yahoo Connected TV?
What did Google search do to Yahoo search? What did Gmail do to Yahoo mail? Marginalized them. Yahoo has always been one of the first to experiment with a new concept, and Google has almost always come along with a superior version. To be fair, it's a different battle this time, because Google and Yahoo presumably have to compete to get their platforms onto TVs and disc players -- there's another gatekeeper between them and the user.
Sony was the first to announce that they're integrating Google TV into several products -- I couldn't find any info about whether they'll continue to support Yahoo as well, but I highly doubt it.
Yahoo has a great product here, but I get the feeling that Google will end up dominating the internet TV category. It comes down to marketing and timing.