Tuesday, 28 July 2009

The Fourth Screen

Regular readers will know of my quest to bring Tesco grocery home shopping to every screen the customer owns (if they want us there) and our mission to engage a developer community to write applications for their favourite devices.

What has intrigued me over the last year is the adoption by many customers of what we geeks are calling the fourth screen.

Before I go any further I better count up the other three screens:

  1. The first screen has been around since the late 1930s - it is of course the television set, evolved from a flickering display of the John Logie Baird mechanical device through to the high definition multi-input flat-screen of today - and soon a 3D immersive experience.
  2. The second screen belongs to the computer, which came about in the 1970s when someone thought it might be a good idea to save printer paper by displaying the output on a TV instead. This screen is now your view of the connected world revealed through your desktop or laptop, and is probably your work tool too.
  3. The third screen is the mobile phone, which has evolved from the dot matrix display on devices (literally) the size of bricks, into the iPhone’s internet-connected immersive touch-sensitive presentation.

So to the fourth screen: Specialist internet-connected devices such as photo frames that display digital images from your memory card or Flickr account through to the Chumby and O2 Joggler. They’re new on the market and tend to do a few specialist tasks really well.

Fourth screen devices intrigue me mostly because they tend to be installed at a single, static location in the home. They are small yet offer a point of focus. I own a Joggler and have placed it in the hallway where it spends most of the time displaying photos and occasionally sounding background music when I play audio around the house from a UPnP (Universal Plug and Play) server. It also offers me live traffic info - very useful just before leaving the house.

I’m also fascinated by the Wayve device - these are designed as instant media messaging focal points, where two or more Wayves can be joined up as a group using the internet as the backbone, and anything written on one Wayve can be sent to one - or all - the others, adding a ‘connected family’ feel. Importantly I see such a device as being located in the kitchen - for many the family ‘hub’.

Ah yes, the kitchen: As these fourth screen devices become common, I can see a great place for Tesco.com grocery ordering if the experience was right.

Getting the experience right is important - it’s probably too easy to take a potentially great device and develop a horridly labourious grocery shopping application. A good application for the fourth screen will be one that ‘lives the value’ of such a device: quick, easy, simple touch, ‘little and often’ usage, operating almost while walking by it rather than sitting down for a session in front of it.

I’ll certainly be encouraging ‘fourth screen thinking’ at TJAM and beyond.

N.B. Although I have mentioned specific products as examples of 'fourth screen' devices, this is for illustration only and should not be considered an endorsement of any such product either by myself or Tesco. However, if I mention any actual product I believe that it is fair to provide a link to that product's website.


  1. I think tablets will eventually become popular too when they are cheap enough. It'll be interesting to see what the final techcrunch tablet is. I definitely think there's a market for a low tech internal terminal in the house. I think most people love the idea of having something on the fridge etc, but at the moment it's the cost and practicality of doing so.

  2. Ties well with a concept prototype I'd seen earlier on the web - A project that conchango had done. that's really going to be neat when it hits the market.


As this blog grows in readership - and because it carries the Tesco brand - I have had to become more careful about the sort of comments that are acceptable. The good news is that I'm a champion of free speech so please be as praising or as critical as you wish! The only comments I DON'T allow through are:

1. Comments which criticise an individual other than myself, or are critical of an organisation other than Tesco. This is simply because they cannot defend themselves so is unfair and possibly libellous. Comments about some aspect of Tesco being better/worse than another equivalent organisation are allowed as long as you start by saying "in my personal opinion.." or "I think that...". ... followed by a "...because.." and some reasoned argument.

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