January 09, 2012, 12:58 PM — Anticipating a growing market for smart television sets, Canonical will be demonstrating a version of its popular Ubuntu Linux OS that can be used for running TVs.
The company is displaying a prototype unit, called the Ubuntu TV, at the Consumer Electronics Show this week in Las Vegas.
"It's an operating system and experience for your television," said Canonical CEO Jane Silber. The company is hoping television manufacturers will adopt Ubuntu as a base for their own smart television sets. "We're focusing on making the TV intuitive and usable again, with a single, elegant interface."
The global market for smart televisions is expected to balloon, reaching $265 billion by 2016, up from $64 million in 2011, estimates the MarketsandMarkets research firm. A smart TV is one that can not only show cable and over-the-air television shows, but, thanks to some built-in computational ability, also offer a user interface to allow viewers to pull video from the Internet, run applications and peruse channel guides more easily.
Although Canonical originally designed Ubuntu as a Linux-based OS for desktop and laptop computers and servers, the company's plans to court television manufacturers such as Sony and LG is part of a broader strategy to offer Ubuntu for a wide range of processor-embedded consumer devices, including automobiles, tablets and various household appliances.
Ubuntu TV "is a first proof point on a broader device strategy," Silber said.
For Ubuntu TV, Canonical wants to partner with television manufacturers; it has no intention to build its own television. It is in talks with several manufacturers, and it is also in the early stages of conversations with content providers as well.
While a relatively new player in the space of embedded OSes, Canonical offers a lot of advantages to OEMs (original equipment manufacturers), Silber argued. Canonical is a "neutral party" and doesn't tie its platform to content offerings, allowing manufacturers to develop their own offerings and forge their own revenue-sharing partnerships, Silber said.
"For manufacturers that post-sale service revenue is an important piece," Silber said.
Ubuntu could be advantageous for a number of other reasons as well. It is an open platform, which will allow manufacturers to participate in the development process. Also, the OS, thanks to its large installed user base, already has many developers who are familiar with the platform. "That ecosystem is something manufacturers need along with a platform," Silber said.