The company already offers an iOS app and browser-based service, which gives users a single location to find most of the TV shows and movies available on the Web. The idea is that users can track their favourite series and instantly see where the next episode is available for streaming, be it Netflix, Hulu or HBO GO.
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Fan TV is the company’s first foray into purpose-built hardware, and it differs drastically from streaming boxes such as Roku and Apple TV because it offers live broadcasting. It’s all delivered over-the-top, although Fanhattan is keen to emphasize that this is still an ‘input one’ device, or a single replacement for consumers’ existing cable box – rather than another peripheral gadget that sits under the TV and gathers dust.
The hardware itself is gorgeous to look at in part because it’s so small. Both the device and remote, which can be stored together magnetically, were designed in partnership with Yves Béhar, known as the chief industrial designer of One Laptop per Child’s XO laptop, as well as the creative mind behind the new OUYA video game console.
Both pieces of hardware feature no buttons whatsoever. The remote fits neatly in the palm and is white on top, black on the bottom. The top surface supports multi-touch and uses various gestures similar to the Magic Trackpad and Touch Magic Mouse built by Apple to navigate the interface and select new content.
A single tap brings up a list of icons that represent similar channels; users can then tap and hold, before moving their finger from left to right to navigate and choose from a list of favorites. A two finger swipe either up or down controls the volume, while a swipe from the side of the remote allows the user to ‘peek’ at the next available channel.
The hardware uses components commonly found in high-end tablets and runs on the Android mobile operating system, with just a few ports on the back including ethernet and HDMI out.
Gilles BianRosa, CEO of Fanhattan, said the device has been designed to solve the ‘Friday Fail’, a common scenario where users spend far too much time looking for the remote and digging through multiple apps and guides to find engaging content.
Rather like its existing Web and iOS apps, the Fanhattan interface is also unique because it brings all of the available content into a single search offering. Selecting movies, for instance, will show results from live TV as well as streaming services such as Amazon Instant Video. There’s also been a serious effort to avoid the ‘spreadsheet’ look that plagues many TV guides, with a heavy emphasis on full-screen photographs and dynamic menu transitions.
Fan TV will launch later this year, but Fanhattan is yet to disclose the price. That’s because the company plans to distribute the hardware through users’ existing cable TV companies. BianRosa said he would be interested in selling it as a stand-alone option, but wants to work with existing pay TV operators to get the hardware into people’s living rooms.
Fan TV will only be available in the United States at launch. Fanhattan also hasn’t disclosed exactly which TV companies it will be working with, which will undoubtedly be a deciding factor for consumers.
Most of the attention in this space surrounds streaming services such as Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Instant Video, so it’s interesting to see Fanhattan target cable TV boxes, rather than streaming boxes, specifically. There’s certainly a market for it, but its success will inevitably lie in its price, content offering and overall user experience.