“Revolutionizing TV Text Input: The T9-Inspired Solution by a Startup”

T9 — the old text input from our trusty Nokia phones from the 1990s — is one of those throwbacks. Direction 9 is a startup that is eager to introduce it to your television, so you can use the directional pad on your remote to enter text. They showed it off at CES, and… I’d be extremely surprised if it ever makes much headway. You have to focus up and down, and you can’t do blind typing,” explains Leon Chang, founder at Direction 9. It seems unlikely that they’d be willing to add 20-50% to its cost just to add a new text input as a feature.

As technology advances, some inventions have proven their usefulness and refuse to disappear into obscurity. T9, a text input method from Nokia phones in the 1990s, is one of those enduring relics. But now, Direction 9, a startup, is determined to bring it to a new platform: your television. By using the directional pad on your remote, you can enter text with ease. However, after seeing it in action at the CES, I highly doubt it will gain much traction.

“Entering text on your phone is hard. You have to look at your phone, two feet away, and then look at your television, 10 feet away. You have to focus up and down, and you can’t do blind typing,” explains Leon Chang, founder at Direction 9.

The company has already created a prototype and implemented it into an Android set-top box. Their ultimate goal is to license the technology to “Roku or Netflix, or Apple or Samsung, think a company like that. Any kind of TV streaming company.”

I initially snapped a photo of their booth to share with the rest of the TechCrunch CES team, with a caption that read “LOL, looks like T9 is making a comeback.” But upon further consideration, I wondered if I was overlooking something. However, the founder failed to present a compelling argument for why this innovation is necessary.

“The trend is to bring people back to their family room. And [our technology] makes searching and entering text easy. There is no better solution: If you have to search for a movie or a TV show, or if you have to enter a password, this is the best option. No one else can offer a quicker, smarter, or easier way,” Chang boasts confidently. “We provide all the API and source code for the UI and machine code.”

But the reality is, there are easier solutions available. As evident by the QR codes or other quick login methods used on most screens nowadays. Plus, on Apple devices, you can use your phone’s keyboard to enter passwords and logins. And voice recognition is a sleek solution for searching for your desired TV shows on almost all modern set-top boxes.

Moreover, implementing a version of T9 on a set-top box is not a complex task. Any competent engineer could do it in a matter of hours. This is not groundbreaking technology or rocket science. And I highly doubt big companies like Apple or Samsung will come knocking at Direction 9’s door to license this technology, especially at the exorbitant price they propose.

“Our business model depends on the company, but our plan is to charge $3, $1, or $0.50 for every remote they ship,” Chang reveals. However, in a world where you can purchase a Roku Express for under $40, it’s unlikely that it will cost manufacturers more than $5 to produce a remote at a larger scale. So, it’s highly improbable that they would be willing to pay an additional 20-50% just to add a new text input feature.

Now, I don’t want to be overly critical of the Direction 9 team, but after analyzing and reviewing around 80 pitch decks, I have developed a healthy level of skepticism when it comes to the startups I encounter. And unfortunately, I don’t see this one holding up. Of course, I could be wrong, but I would be surprised if this company finds customers or investors.

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Kira Kim

Kira Kim is a science journalist with a background in biology and a passion for environmental issues. She is known for her clear and concise writing, as well as her ability to bring complex scientific concepts to life for a general audience.

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