The last we heard from Litl, the startup was introducing its first product, a "webbook" meant to change Web-browsing into a lean-back, communal experience, much like TV. But now, the company is taking the logical next step: In an exclusive interview with FastCompany.com, Litl's CEO, John Chuang previewed their next product, a device which will transform your TV into a Web browser. "The TV's a great device," says Chuang. "But it's not built for computer content, and computer content is designed for a personal experience. We wanted to put our OS on a TV, and create a new generation of Web apps for TV that offer group experiences."
Set for release in the first quarter of 2011, the device, which like the Litl webbook was designed by Yves Behar's Fuseproject, has two basic components: A box, housing the OS software, that connects to the Web and feeds Internet content to the TV via HDMI; and a remote (picture at top). The remote has two modes: The top is a touchscreen that lets you change Web channels and call up apps; that interface can also slide away to reveal a keyboard about the size of a smartphone.
Users will then be able to toggle between their cable box, for standard TV content, and the Litl device, for Web-based content.
The real innovation will lie in the OS. "It's going to finally give you a good Web browsing, computer experience on the TV," says Chuang. He points out that computers, where we get all our Web content today, were designed to be experienced from arm's length. "When you're leaning back on a couch, those OS's don't work. So we've rethought how the browsing experience could work on a couch, at 10 feet away. What we really want to deliver is an excellent Web experience on TV, which doesn't exist yet."
To that end, Litl will open up its OS, so that developers can create all kinds of apps for the system. And unlike Web-TV set-top boxes like Roku or Boxee, the new Litl product (which hasn't been named yet) will have processing power approaching that of a laptop—meaning far greater interface and app capabilities. And while those competing devices—and Vudu—offer Web/TV OS's, they still lack a handheld remote that makes surfing easy.
"TV's are used by multiple people at once. So to address that, the apps you design have to be completely different from anything out there now," adds Chuang. "We're moving away from computery stuff, to a next generation of device that provides a more direct path to content. The Litl webbook and the iPad are just the first devices in that direction."