Google Going Gaga for TV

January 31, 2011
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As we speak, a battle is brewing over the future of television. Google is making a big push to outdo Apple and others players in this space to ensure its place in your living room. Google and Android are vying to do for TVs what smartphones did for mobile technology.

Google TV will allow users to surf the Web on their televisions while watching their favorite shows. Some of the best research shows that nearly 50% of smartphone users are on their phone with an app, or the web while they watch TV. What Google is attempting to do is make it so that TV sets can run Android apps, and turn them into giant, connected smartphones.

As it stands, the so-called set-top box market is like a sleeping giant. A handful of companies have tried — and no device, including Google TV, has blasted off like the iPhone or iPod. But analysts say the enhanced television platform, which integrates the Web with your favorite shows, is as well positioned as any of its competitors.

“My sense is it’s most of the way there as an experience,” said Roger Kay, a Wayland-based computer industry analyst. “But whether it becomes a habit of people to use it, that’s not established yet.”

The goal of the set-top box market is a seamless integration of Web- and channel-surfing, which Google admits is a work in progress.

“It is an evolution,” said Rishi Chandra, head product manager for Google TV. “What’s different here is that when you’re buying a Google TV, the product is going to be changing all the time. The innovation is built inside the product.”

Indeed, part of the business model for Google TV depends on the product getting better as you own it. Google is constantly loading updates and fixing bugs.

In coming months, Google TV plans to roll out its Holy Grail: open-source applications on an Android platform, — allowing amateur techies and innovators alike to go to town and design useful tools and funky games that assure the product becomes as ever-changing as the smartphone.

“One of the things we recognize with Android is that the power of the phone got significantly better when you got to bring the Web to it,” Chandra said. “It turned out the Web made every part of the phone experience better. That was one lesson that we learned.”

Here’s what the future holds for your TV experience:

  • Twitter updates scrolling across the screen that relate to all your favorite TV shows.
  • Applications that allow you to video conference with your family in high-definition –— and for free, from anywhere in the world.
  • Security camera footage showing you who’s at your front door in a split-screen view with your show of choice.
  • The ability to shop for products during commercials or song tracks while they’re performed on shows like “American Idol.”

Logitech recently partnered with Google TV, running the platform on its $300 Revue, a set-top box.

Though set-top box sales slid an estimated 8 percent last year, Logitech’s third-quarter earnings report shows Google TV might be seeing a surge, calling the system a “highlight” during a period in which sales were $754 million, up 22 percent from the same quarter a year ago.

“We felt it was the first time someone was trying to create an open and equal system,” said Ashish Arora, vice president and general manager of Logitech’s digital home group.

While Google TV faces no shortage of competition, analysts say its biggest challenger, Apple TV, doesn’t have the same capability to access apps, a critical selling point for today’s tech-savvy consumers.

“Google’s model is aiming for a lot of other players to provide pieces of it,” said Kay, the Wayland analyst. “Apple likes to control the whole experience.”

Still, he said Google has not been “as supportive with its partners as Microsoft is.” He added, “I remain suspicious because of their record in this area.”

Does Google have what it takes to earn a place in your living room? At least with increasing competition, we can expect some very satisfying solutions to present themselves in 2011.

Stay tuned!

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