Will the mobile industry take over the digital living room?

Mike Dano

LAS VEGAS--One of the key themes to emerge from this year's Consumer Electronics Show here is the growing role of the wireless industry in the living room. Companies ranging from Motorola Mobility (NYSE:MMI) to Qualcomm (NASDAQ:QCOM) to Broadcom to Intel to Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) are playing at the intersection between smartphones and TVs, and the results could add an entirely new dimension to the already voluminous wireless market.

There are a range of examples of this new interaction between mobile phones and objects within user' living rooms, particularly their TV. For example, during its press conference, Samsung announced smart TVs that can recognize users' voice and gestures. More importantly, Samsung said its MediaHub service, which currently provides downloadable movies and TV shows to Samsung smartphone users, will soon be available on its smart TVs too. And Samsung's new AllShare Play app will allow smartphone users to push content from their phones and other devices onto their TVs, similar to Apple's AirPlay offering.

Another good example of this trend is the new k91 Smart TV from Lenovo. China's Lenovo, whose bread and butter is laptops, is struggling to widen its addressable markets by building smartphones and TVs. The company's first stab at TVs is a gadget powered by Qualcomm silicon and Google's (NASDAQ:GOOG) Android 4.0 operating system. The result is a TV that recognizes users' voices and can play Android games like Gameloft's Asphalt 6. If the effort proves successful, mobile app makers may suddenly find themselves staring into an entirely new and surprising market opportunity: living room TVs.

Broadcom, Qualcomm, LG and others showed off similar technologies at the CES show, either the actual appliances themselves or silicon platforms capable of supporting the interaction between mobile phones and TVs. (Interestingly, Motorola made little mention of such technology, despite talking up the benefits of the combination of the Motorola smartphone and set-top box businesses during the split of Motorola Mobility and Motorola Solutions.)

But manufacturers aren't the only players eying the opportunities that could be derived from allowing user to transmit content from phones to TVs and vice versa. Google TV is the search giant's direct attempt to stake out a major claim in the living room, and its Android business likely will be further integrated into Google TV in the future. Separately, Microsoft's (NASDAQ:MSFT) Xbox is rapidly staking out a position beyond console gaming by being able to play services such as Netflix and connecting to video offerings from the likes of Verizon (NYSE:VZ). Microsoft could well more closely meld its Windows Phone platform into this scenario.

In a prophetic report titled "The Digital Living Room: On a Collision Course with Mobile" and released last week, Current Analysis analyst Avi Greengart wrote that, "Looking forward, the mobile and fixed consumer electronics worlds are on a collision course, and 2012 is when mobile is going start asserting dominance. Mobile ecosystems for content and apps are extending into the digital living room, and mobile devices are going to play an increasingly important role managing, controlling, and delivering content to larger displays."

Of course, hovering over the situation is the possibility that Apple will fully invest in some type of solution that would tie its phone, tablet and computer offerings with users' TVs. Steve Jobs famously told his biographer that he had "cracked" the problems posed by the TV industry. How exactly Apple's TV play will look remains to be seen.

Whatever the outcome, there is clearly an opportunity for companies within the digital living room. Regular users are often stymied by the complex and sometimes impossible hookups among computers, TVs and phones. And with the continual advancements in smartphones, there's more and more content users likely will want to shift from their 3 to 5-inch smartphone screen and onto the bigger screen of a TV. +Mike Dano