Over the past several years, we’ve seen several device manufacturers and software makers jump into the smart TV market. Everyone from Samsung to Sony to LG to Google and Yahoo have built out some sort of smart TV device or operating system. But to date, so-called smart TVs haven’t actually been very smart: Control and navigation for thousands of apps and hundreds of pieces of content continues to be a challenge. And the market is totally fragmented, so apps only ever work for one operating system or manufacturer.
But what if there were a way for users to view, navigate, and control apps from their mobile phones or tablets, obviating the need for clunky remote controls? What if there were a way for them to play games with their friends and family on connected TVs, even if they bought them from different manufacturers? What if users could connect to friends on different second-screen applications, even if they were using different operating systems? Even better, what if developers could create a multiscreen, multiplatform app once, and have it work across multiple TV manufacturers and mobile and tablet operating systems?
That’s what Kontrol.tv seeks to do.
Kontrol.tv is the next product from MOVL, a startup that has been working on dual-screen mobile and TV applications over the last few years. MOVL’s first app was called WeDraw, and was built to connect mobile devices to Samsung TVs — essentially enabling users to draw on their phones and have the images instantly pop up onscreen. But it’s been building an ecosystem of device partnerships over the last several years that could make it easy for developers to quickly and easily build multiscreen apps that work across tens of millions of devices.
Kontrol.tv has built a number of APIs that simplify the process of reaching users regardless of TV manufacturer and mobile device. There are APIs for connecting various TVs to each other in the cloud, a direct-connect API for streaming media from a mobile device to the TV, and several others for managing users in various apps and rooms. The idea is that you build apps for Kontol.tv, and it’ll handle all of the connections across devices.
From a user standpoint, you just need a TV or connected device that supports Kontrol.tv — and there are a growing number of them out there. Kontrol.tv is featured on Google TV and Samsung connected TV devices, and will soon be supported by LG, Toshiba, Sony, Phillips, Sharp, and other manufacturers. (If you don’t have any of those devices, you can test it out on your computer here.)
Users download the mobile app, now available on the Apple App Store and Google Play stores, and they’ll have access to interactive, dual-screen devices. The mobile and TV apps will automatically sync if they’re connected to the same Wi-Fi network. If not, users can enter a code on the mobile device to get them synced up.
Once that’s done, users will have access to multiple dual-screen apps. That includes stuff like WeDraw and SwipeIt — which lets you swipe pictures on your mobile phone to be viewed on your TV. But there are others as well: Like being able to play a game of poker where the common cards are displayed on the TV, but users control their own cards and chips from the mobile device. Or an app for queueing up karaoke videos on the TV.
The whole thing sounds amazing — if it works. But, as usual, there’s are some roadblocks to sort through. The most obvious one is Apple’s resistance to the idea of app stores within apps that are available on its devices. And since the Kontrol.tv app basically lets you choose between apps that have been developed for the platform, which then launch on connected devices, that could become an issue.
More importantly, though, there’s the user acquisition and user education problem. Once someone finds out about Kontol.tv, they’re likely to want to use it, whether it be to interact with other people around the world, or play games in their own homes. But there’s that part about getting them to use it first, before they start coming back. For now, MOVL is just focused on getting Kontrol.tv on as many devices as possible, and we expect to see a lot more in the coming months.
The startup has raised a small amount of seed funding, including some from investor Mark Cuban. But it’s working to get other investors, both institutional and strategic, on board for a Series A round.