The TV of tomorrow? Not yet, but stay tuned Google TV has potential

The announcement of Google TV going international was received initially with some excitement. But slowly reality dawned. At £200 ($310) the device looks expensive, and on further examination of the services currently available – YouTube, Google’s own VOD store and iPlayer the only major services of note – it looks underwhelming. However, as a standalone device it is not too far off what Apple offers on its Apple TV devices.

Many of the features that Google touted as revolutionary with the launch of Google TV some pay-TV providers and CE manufacturers have already begun to offer – even if it is not as elegantly achieved. The most notable is search across live TV, recorded TV and on-demand services that is becoming increasingly common on Pay-TV set-top boxes.

Writing off Google TV because so far it has failed to impress so far would be presumptuous. Like Android, which has taken time to develop into the mature OS it is today; Google TV is not a finished product right now but a work in progress.

Furthermore, Google should be congratulated for updating legacy Google TV devices with each new iteration. The same cannot be said of many Smart TV manufacturers, who routinely abandon last year’s devices as soon as the next one is launched.

It is not just the weight of history that should compel judgment to be withheld. There is also the expectation of what Google is going to do next. Rumors swirling ahead of Google’s IO event may point the way, and if they do Google TVs future may well be exciting. There is the persistent mention of a Nexus tablet. Apple’s great strength in the home right now is derived from the sizeable install base around the iPad. The Nexus tablet may well be Google’s first serious attempt to combat Apple’s hegemony.

There is also the question of why now? Why have Sony and Vizio announced Google TV devices internationally and in the US respectively this week. Their timing would be quite off if the launches of these devices did not coincide with a major announcement surrounding Google TV. And the Google TV blog hinted that more announcements and details could be expected at IO.

Potentially we could see the oft spoke of [email protected] entertainment service, something that if the leaks are to be believed is akin to Apple’s Airplay service and Microsoft’s soon to be launched Smart Glass. If this is announced then it has the potential to be a real game changer, turning the device from a stand along online video STB to something truly integrated within the wider android device family.

Not that Google TV is merely aping what Apple TV already does. There are many ways it sets itself apart. Google TV comes with a fully functioning version of Google’s Chrome browser. And whilst it may be doubtful how many users actually wish to browse the internet on their TV, if they do Chrome will provide an excellent experience. Furthermore Google has already brought its app store Google Play to the Google TV platform. At first it may be asked who wants to play Angry Birds on the TV? But the popularity of casual games is clear, and with the major consoles only offering a perfunctory experience for these users Google TV may well be the first mass market casual games console.

For now Google TV lags behind Apple TV and its other competitors. And faced with the option many consumers will find themselves balking at the price. But as Vizio has shown it is possible to launch a Google TV STB for under US$100. For Sony and Google to succeed in pushing this device the price will need to be reevaluated. The STB market is already very crowded and at present the Google TV STB is just not compelling enough for users to buy it, few will be sold on its potential alone.

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