Smart TVs are all the rage at the Consumer Electronics Show this year, and an Israeli-made device that promises to make any TV into a smart one is making its mark on CES. Meet Bob, the latest invention by veteran Israeli tech genius Dov Moran, is a USB-style “TV stick” that attaches to a TV’s HDMI port (like the Google Chromecast), and lets users share content with each other, play games over the Internet, watch TV or a Youtube video together, control a video camera, and much more.
Meet Bob’s brand name Comigo, Moran’s latest company, chose to market the device (because it’s a “friendly” name, the company said). Moran and his team believe Meet Bob will revolutionize TV watching, said Sigalit Klimovsky, who heads the Meet Bob project. “It’s a device to bring families together. Technology was supposed to get us closer; it has opened the boundaries and has become a commodity enabling us to communicate easily with anyone, anywhere. But while we connect more with a bigger group of people, we interact and communicate less with the people we care about – our family.” Bob, she said, will harness interactive technology to bring people, especially families, closer together.
Moran is the entrepreneur who brought to the world the “disk-on-key,” the pluggable USB micro-flash drive that has fully replaced the floppy as a means of physically copying files on a computer. Moran sold out his company, m-Systems, to Sandisk in 2006 for $1.6 billion. Since then he has developed a number of businesses, including MoDu, a modular cellphone system that could probably have been a big success, had it not had the bad luck to come onto the market just as Apple was releasing the iPhone (MoDu is now out of business, its assets purchased by Google) In 2012, he started Comigo, which develops Android-based set top boxes for smart TVs – and, of course, Meet Bob.
At first glance, Bob looks a lot like Google’s Chromecast, which came out last year and lets users stream videos from computers to a TV, or to watch videos from Youtube and other services. But Bob is much more, said company spokesperson Iris Abramovich. “Chromecast is just a video streamer, but Meet Bob is much more – actually a social and interactivity device, letting users communicate and participate with each other.”
Meet Bob is essentially an Android communication device designed for TVs, so users can take advantage of Android apps that allow for Internet communication. Thus, a user can stream what they are watching on the their TV with another Bob user on their network, or play a game over the Internet, with the TV screen on both (or even multiple) Bob user locations, whether in the next town or halfway around the world, participating. You could also use Bob to access devices on a network in another location, like a video camera, beaming the images right onto your own TV.
As a device marketed for families, Bob naturally lets parents control access to content for their kids; family members have their own login and are offered relevant features and content to fit their profile. For example, the children in the family will have access to specific video on demand, live channels, games, apps, websites and educational books that have been authorized by their parents, while having limited TV viewing time (the parents decide how much) and the ability to communicate only with other family members (as opposed to a wider circle of Bob users on the network). The system, said Abramovich, will enable content providers to better tailor their offerings for different user profiles and usage scenarios.
The device is being shown for the first time at CES, to very positive reviews so far, said Abramovich; the product will be on the market within months, and will cost $99. Besides a retail version, Comigo is seeking partners who will use the device to monetize content (like sporting events, live TV), offer interactive applications for users, develop micro-targeted TV ad campaigns for specific segments of the Meet Bob user community, and so on. “And, of course, it will bring families together,” said Klimovsky. “We believe technology can do more for us and bring the people we love closer together and that’s what Bob is designed to do.”