Guffaw TV seemed like a more appropriate name for Google TV when former CEO Eric Schmidt claimed in December that by this Summer, it would be on the “majority” of new TVs.
At the time, the search giant’s key launch partner, Logitech, has just dumped Google TV after openly admitting that its device cost the company “well over $100M (£65m) in operating profit”.
But last week’s Consumer Electronics Show showed Google TV is anything but dead. Second generation tech, and new partners including Samsung and LG mean the biggest ballers in flatscreens are actually on board. If Apple really is working on a TV, here’s how Google can beat it to the punch with a smart TV people will actually want.
Last week, we looked at how Google TV might make a resurgence, noting that Schmidt “Obviously knew something we didn’t.” Now the dust has settled on CES, we’re getting a clearer picture of what he had in mind. But there’s still lots more work to do: here’s our masterplan for Google to focus on.
While it’s exciting to see Google TV 2.0 cropping up in smart TVs of the world’s biggest boob tube pushers – Sony, Samsung and LG, a rare triumvirate – the big breakthrough is its appearance in set top boxes. And not the fiddly ones with complicated keyboard we saw last year, but tiny, lightweight models that don’t cost the easth.
Meet the Vizio VAP430 media streamer, a $99 (£65) media streamer that also happens to run Google TV. It’s my favourite gadget of CES this year: plugged in via HDMI, it adds Google search powers to supported US cable boxes, and it’ll become an instant games console the moment OnLive releases its app for Google TV.
This approach puts Google TV in direct competition not just with the pricey Boxee Box, but cheaper streamers such as the current Apple TV, and the popular Roku line of itty bitty media streamers, and making it much more appealing in the process.
It’s the same iPhone versus Android proposition all over again: it’s safe to assume that Apple’s iOS TV will only be made my Apple, but Google TV being on everything by everyone means it can beat it on numbers again.
Either you get it built on, or simply plug in a tiny box, just like Apple wants you to right now. And they can only get smaller – I can’t wait to see what happens when a Google TV add-on the size of a USB stick appears (Incidentally, Roku tells me that its Roku Stick may launch in the UK, depending on how popular proves on launch in the US this Summer. I wonder if the company has considered becoming a Google TV partner).
Launch in Europe
It’s been almost two years since Google TV was first unveiled to the world, and it’s still not available outside of the US – although the same fanciful Eric Schmidt said late last year that it would hit our fair continent in early 2012.
Needless to say, more markets equals more customers equals dollar dollar bill, and we’re eager to test it out here in the UK, but a European launch could prove a useful PR move as well.
For one thing, UK networks would be a great deal more open to having their on-demand content on the network. The major US networks and Hulu all but de-railed Google TV by blocking their Flash video content from it, but the BBC and Channel 4 have never tried to block videos from Android-based devices capable of running Flash.
They’d also likely be far more open to having their content made readily searchable – which, let us not forget, is Google’s modus operandi. BBC iPlayer already lets you search for on-demand content on other channels and links to it, and hasn’t encountered any problems in doing so.
Apple meanwhile, appears to have hit a roadblock trying to sign up content partners for its business model, and has shown little interest so far in providing European content on its second-generation Apple TV set top box. Even now, the only way to get BBC iPlayer on there is with an iPad – and not in the UK.
Apps, not boxes
Google learnt the hard way that ostriches with their heads in the sand can still kick really hard, but there’s a solution in the meantime while the US networks still cling on to old business models: focus on apps, not partners.
We’re still waiting for apps to legitimately appear on the Apple TV without the need for code skullduggery, but in the meantime Google TV already has apps. They’ve been trickling through since September, but are starting to look all the more attractive – Netflix, Crunchyroll for the obsessive otaku in your family, a plethora of news channel apps.
If Google can spell out how your TV experience can genuinely be enhanced by services as well as more broadcasters, it could be on to something. That is a big if, admittedly.
Take the Trojan horse method: Push Google TV out to PS3s
Sony is sticking with Google TV, showing off a Google TV streamer and Blu-ray player at CES last week. But there’s a last resort Google could use if all else fails: it could launch on PS3.
There are more than 55 million PlayStation 3s out there in the world, all connected to the web, and all capable of having new services pushed to their XMB dashboard over the air (As Sony did with ITV Player and 4OD in 2010, and Netflix last week). That could give Google a massive footprint in an instant.
Though the rumour has been floating around for months, there are some problems with this approach of course. Google TV now runs on ARM-based processors, meaning it’d have to be adapted for the IBM Cell processor on board the PS3.
Google would also have to make a good rationale for why the service should be pushed out on existing hardware, for free. I for one can’t see Sony being too keen on a PS3 app running apps (Insert Xzibit meme here), especially ones like OnLive which compete directly with it.
Do you agree? Can Google TV ever take off? Let’s hear your thoughts in the comments below.