A survey by Horizon, an independent market research firm, shows that about 60% of consumers are not clear about the smartness of their smart TVs. The survey is based on interviews with smart TV buyers aged from 25 to 40 in more than twenty first-tier cities.

77.9% respondents, ignoring the smart features, simply want their smart devices to receive TV programs. For those who have any idea about how “smart” a smart TV can be, their main demand is watching on-demand TV dramas. Only 3.7% consider developing more applications the most important thing for smart TV. Nevertheless, as high as 88.4% respondents would like to choose the smart as their next TV set.

Half the respondents found that, according to the same survey, remote controllers are not easy to use and the running programs slow down the device. About 30% of them think the apps built-in are poorly designed. 21.3% complained about the poor performance of voice and gesture interaction and facial recognition.

Major domestic TV manufacturers, including Changhong, TCL and Hisense, launched more than 30 smart TV models in the past year. China Market Monitor, a research organization on home appliances, estimates that smart TV sales will increase to 26 million in 2013 in China.

Users’ lack of knowledge about the “smartness” of tech products is also reflected in set-top box sector. An observer posted what he found during the Chinese New Year holidays when he traveled back to his hometown on Zhihu, a Q&A site. Within two days, 75% of 1600 households in the residential quarter, including his own family, signed up to a set-top box program, called Cloud TV, offered by the provincial cable company. The “Cloud TV” offers whatever smart TV also does: online videos, digital books and magazines, online games and the like, and a premium channel. However, the chances that users have no idea what the device can do is big. In this case it took the observer two days to teach his parents use the device and access TV programs.

The set-top box program mentioned above charges 500 yuan set-up fee and annual subscription fees — several hundred yuan, more or less the cable subscription rate. The expense is seldom a problem with a majority of families. And they’d always be willing to try the trendy out. But if the applications and paid services weren’t made easily accessible, further business models — what the smart operating system enables — couldn’t work.

Since the existing devices for smartizing the digital living room experience don’t satisfy users, other players are tapping into this sector with alternative services or devices. LeTV, starting as an online video platform, has expanded to content production and set-top box manufacturing. It plans to launch a “Super TV”, Android-based smart TV that is expected to take advantage of its content and other resources on the end-to-end value chain, later this year. It’s unknown whether it would help consumers make better use of the smartness of such devices. Anyway, the idea alone attracted investments from investors such as Innovation Works.

In some rural areas, a family may own a stand-up tablet. It’s much welcomed by households that it can do whatever they need from the Internet, playing casual games, chatting with kids through QQ, shopping online, or watching online videos by connecting it to a set-top box. Since Chinese online video services provide with almost all domestic TV programs, it works just like the smart TV with a smaller screen and at a much lower price.

Stand-up Tablet Made by Haier

Tracey Xiang is Beijing, China-based tech writer. Reach her at traceyxiang@gmail.com

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