I’m not one who takes pleasure in the nailing of coffins. So when news about the demise of FLO TV reached my ears earlier this week, I felt a bit sad although not really surprised.
I should know. I’ve been trying out the device the last couple of weeks.
I’ve already heard rumblings about FLO TV’s troubles the last few months so I was surprised when I got a pitch to review the device recently. Then again, I remember the same thing happening with a couple of ill-fated products that have come my way as well.
Regardless, I was ready to start writing my review when the news about FLO TV came up, which was quickly followed by an apologetic letter from my FLO TV contact. Even with my backlog of gadgets to review piling up, though, I honestly don’t mind. I always appreciate the opportunity to try various gadgets, and my FLO TV contact was quite helpful and nice. If anything, I consider it an educational experience that I can file for future reference.
So where did FLO TV go wrong? If I had to put my finger on it, it pretty much boils down to a lack of features and flexibility. When you have a plethora of smartphones out there that can do many things quite well — including watching live and recorded TV via SlingPlayer — you better be offering a flat-out superb experience if you release a subscription-based gadget that does only one thing.
One pattern I noticed while trying out the device was that I kept wishing it did a certain feature better or offered a feature that it didn’t have. Image quality could be better, for example, although I can understand the need to lower the resolution for faster streaming. Not being able to get a reception while traveling to Lake Tahoe and other areas, on the other hand, isn’t as easily excused since that pretty much defeats the purpose of having a device designed for watching TV on the go.
I also found myself wishing the device had more channels after being unable to find a show I liked while using the device one morning. I found myself wishing I had the option to record certain shows for later viewing or view past shows that I missed. In this age of TIVO and DVRs, it’s amazing how constricting it is to be limited to live television.
In short, when you find yourself wishing this and that instead of simply enjoying the product, then that isn’t a good sign. This was something I noticed as well while trying out a Beta version of another portable television device, the Kula TV. That device didn’t offer actual TV service per se but basically aggregated TV clips from the Web. Regardless, the implementation was quite poor and I would’ve given the Kula TV 1 star out of 5 if I had to review it based on the features it had at the time I was trying it out. The FLO TV fares a little bit better but not by much. I’d give it 2 or 2.5 stars since it at least offered actual TV programming and could still function sans a nearby WiFi router.
Still, none of that really matters now that the device is headed for the gadget graveyard. A pity, really, since given the popularity of television, one would think there’d be an easy market out there for a device that satiates the appetite of the TV-consuming public. But execution still matters. With its lack of web browsing, apps, or even the ability to watch any TV show you want when you want to, the FLO TV basically turns into an expensive paperweight once there’s nothing good on the available channels at a particular time.
On the positive side, one would hope that the FLO TV experience proves to be a learning one that companies would keep in mind if they want to give the portable TV thing another try. FLO TV made the industry realize what the public doesn’t want. Hopefully next time, Qualcomm or others in the gadget industry can build on the failure of FLO TV and produce something the public actually does.
Note: FLO TV will continue to offer service until Spring 2011. In the event of a discontinuance of service, FLO TV will make appropriate refunds.