This startup aims to introduce a T9-like text input feature to your TV.


Gilard Cob

7/13/20233 min read

person holding black remote control
person holding black remote control

Certain technologies have such inherent value that they are bound to endure. T9, the text input method popularized by Nokia phones in the 1990s, is a nostalgic reminder of the past. Direction 9 is a startup that is excited to bring its product to your television, allowing you to conveniently enter text using the directional pad on your remote. It was showcased at CES, and... I would be quite astonished if it ever gains much traction.

Typing on your phone can be quite challenging. Take a glance at your phone, just a couple of feet from you, and then shift your gaze towards your television, which is about 10 feet away. According to Leon Chang, founder at Direction 9, it is important to maintain focus and avoid blind typing.

The company has developed a prototype and integrated it into an Android set-top box. He envisions the company's technology being licensed to major players in the industry, such as Roku, Netflix, Apple, or Samsung. Any type of television streaming company.

When I first captured an image of the booth, my intention was to share it with the rest of the TechCrunch CES team. I added the caption "LOL, looks like T9 is making a comeback" to add a touch of humor. However, as I reflected on it, I couldn't help but wonder if there was something more to the booth that I hadn't noticed. Unfortunately, the founder failed to effectively justify the necessity of their innovation.

"The current movement is focused on reconnecting individuals with their family room." Our technology is simple to search for or input. There is simply no better option: Whether you're looking for a movie or TV show, or need to input a password, this solution is unparalleled. According to Chang, no one else can provide a solution that is faster, more intelligent, or easier. "We offer users access to the API and source code for both the UI and machine code."

However, there are individuals who propose simpler solutions. If you've attempted to set up Netflix lately, you've probably noticed that many screens require a two-step process of logging in on your laptop and entering a code on your TV. Alternatively, some screens offer the option to log in quickly using a QR code or another method on your device. Apple devices allow you to conveniently use your phone's keyboard for entering passwords and logins. Additionally, most modern set-top boxes offer an elegant voice search feature for finding your desired TV shows.

In addition to everything mentioned, a skilled engineer could easily develop a version of T9 for a set-top box in a short amount of time. It's not a recent innovation, nor is it a complex scientific concept. I would be extremely surprised if Apple or Samsung expressed interest in licensing this technology, especially considering the price the company is aiming to charge.

"Our pricing strategy varies depending on the company, but we intend to charge different amounts, ranging from $3 to $0.50, for each remote they ship," explains Chang. Considering the affordability of a Roku Express, it seems highly unlikely that manufacturers incur production costs of more than $5 for a remote control when produced at scale. Adding a new text input as a feature would probably not justify a 20-50% increase in cost.

Listen, I don't want to come across as rude to the Direction 9 team, but after analyzing around 80 pitch decks, I've developed a fair amount of skepticism when it comes to the startups I encounter — and this particular one just doesn't seem convincing. Although I have been mistaken in the past, it would be quite astonishing if this company managed to attract customers or investors.