Since IKEA introduced the UPPLEVA last week, i’ve spent a lot of time trying to understand what I, and others, find so compelling about this thing. Instead of trying to figure it out for myself though and articulate it in a way understandable to others, I’m just going to link you to a fantastic post Khoi Vinh wrote. The post nails a lot of the important characteristics of the UPPLEVA which in my humble opinion make it immensely compelling, it also raises some points I disagree with though.
This is a thoughtful if furniture-centric response to the what I’ve called “the living room problem” — that existential dilemma of wrangling numerous, barely compatible electronics and cables into as coherent a user experience as possible, a task too often left without guidance or care to hapless consumers.
One point for IKEA, this is the whole “Cables! Cables! Cables!” dilemma and is probably one of my favorite things about the UPPLEVA which it solves, whereby you don’t see any cables and rarely even have to deal with them. The thing has an integrated (if outdated) DVD/Blu-Ray player, removing at least one device from the heap of devices we all have sitting under our TV sets today.
One of the worst things about using a TV which has gotten worse since its introduction is leaning round the back of the TV fiddling with the wild array of cables plugged into the thing to get something to work, there’s a whole industry devoted to it, the UPPLEVA appears to solve it though, it actually has an integrated cable tidy to keep everything in place.
Very, very few of us have what anyone would describe as a simple-to-use home theater system; there is always some imperfect compromise of boxes and remote controls and user interfaces, and an ugly mess of wires and cables hidden behind the hardware.
Again with this I think Khoi identifies the fundamental problem perfectly, there’s usually just too much going on, and even the mention of the phrase “remote controls” conjures thoughts of flimsy, plastic, complex things that get lost down the side of the couch. Now man will never be able to solve that last one but we can at least improve on the rest, and I think the UPPLEVA attempts to do that. It looks super simple, not quite as simple as the Apple TV remote but simple nonetheless1.
Where it isn’t a huge departure from traditional remote controls is in that it still looks like it’s made out of flimsy, tacky, plastic. Heart breaking.
I think this new product line has its heart in the right place; they are standing up and taking charge of the total user experience in a way that few other companies have seemed capable or willing to do. Not just the integration of components, but how the whole package fits into the home from the standpoint of both functionality and decor.
“This is not a TV, and it’s not a piece of furniture either”
It’s all in one. In a way that only few manage to do. Talking of Apple:
Uppleva could prove a hit for Ikea (at least until the advent of whatever television solution Apple has been rumored to be cooking up), but the one major detail that this announcement and video seems to gloss over is the software.
IKEA have created an integrated solution, one which they have complete control over, even more so than that of Apple with it’s products – by maintaining control of the software, the hardware, and even the furniture the hardware sits on. Even if he was joking Neven Mrgan made the point on Twitter that the two aren’t too different in that regard.
Things IKEA shares with Apple: own products, customers all have the same stuff, stores always packed, locals freak out when a new one opens.— Neven Mrgan (@mrgan) April 18, 2012
I think both companies have strong values instilled that user experience is paramount when doing something as engaging as watching television. Khoi is right though, the huge unanswered question here is with the software, where one would assume that software made by a flat-pack furniture company will be, to put it kindly, a piece of crap.
I have to say though, even if I’m not entirely convinced, the TV software featured in the video looks nice enough, good design at least, even if the video makes no promises about actual user experience using it. The software looks to be on par with the likes of Samsung and their smart TV software, but not up there with the king, Apple.
I think it’s making a big assumption on the users part though in thinking that the stock software even matters, the software IKEA ships the TV with is effectively “input zero” on the television. Of all the people I know, at least in the UK, no one uses the shipping software on their smart TV. Everyone uses set-top boxes, Sky boxes, TiVo’s, DVD players, or, my personal weapon of choice, an Apple TV. And that is why for me personally the shipping software is immaterial to the argument as, like most, the moment I got the system, I would plug in my Apple TV via one of the four HDMI ports and use that as the default.
Another thing which stood out to me from Khoi’s post was the quote “at least until the advent of whatever television solution Apple has been rumored to be cooking up”. Khoi seems to believe that Apple are in fact working on a television system, as has been the common belief for a long time following the quote from Steve Jobs in the Isaacson biography that he had “finally cracked it”. The idea that Apple are making an integrated TV has come under fire of late though.
As Horace Dediu of Asymco suggested, it’s a very real possibility that an “Apple TV” could just be the Apple TV as we know it today:
So it is that I approach the question of Apple’s TV disruption. My working assumption about the next Apple TV is that it already exists. It’s none other than the existing Apple TV, improved.
I’m pretty convinced at this point that Apple won’t do a true Apple television, it would be a huge and challenging undertaking, instead I think the UPPLEVA might be the next best thing, even though it is going to be an evolution of the television we know today, rather than the “revolution” of the entertainment experience people are expecting from Apple.
The two companies are so similar in many ways though, and IKEA are actually capable of out doing Apple in some ways – making a truly integrated solution which combines software, hardware, and flatpack furniture.
Although it does feature the nondescript red, green, yellow and blue buttons which have become commonplace on most remote controls. ↩
April 23, 2012