Like Apple, TV Explores Must-Have Applications
By SAUL HANSELL September 7, 2009
The cable and satellite TV business has a big case of iPhone envy.
Apple has been able to popularize its cellphone in a crowded field by giving away or selling specialized applications that make the phone more useful. So far, independent developers have written more than65,000 apps.
DirecTV and the FiOS service from Verizon Communications have recently announced app stores modeled directly on Apple's App Store. Just a few applications have shown up so far, but already these few - Bible verses, Facebook updates and fantasy sports team updates - suggest that people may not be content to sit back while watching TV but rather want to lean forward and interact and customize their TVs.
Most of the other cable, satellite and phone companies are also developing technology that will let their set-top boxes run more complex applications, including those written by outside developers.
But the companies are still wrestling with how open they want their systems to be to outside developers, what business arrangement to make with developers and what sorts of things people want to do while watching their TV from their couches.
TV systems, after all, have long been tightly controlled by their operators, who send squadrons of lawyers to negotiate deals with even the most obscure channel. To them, the prospect of emulating Apple's sprawling marketplace is frightening, yet still increasingly appealing.