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Don’t give up on Google TV quite yet.The first version of the product sold so poorly that one of its partners, Logitech, had more returns than sales in the first quarter of 2011, and its CEO later said that betting on Google TV had “cost us dearly.”
But last fall, Google updated the Google TV software, and followed up with some new partnership announcements at the CES show in January.
Now — finally — the first of those new devices is coming to market. Actually, it’s two devices: a pair of 47-inch and 55-inch TV sets from LG, which will ship this month. They’ll be followed shortly by standalone Google TV boxes from Sony and Vizio.
We recently caught up with Google TV manager Rishi Chandra, who was one of the first leaders of the team, coming over from Google Apps back in 2010.
He explained that Google TV is really just getting started. Here’s why:
- ARM chipsets. The first version of Google TV was designed for Intel-type microprocessors, which are used in most personal computers, but Google quickly figured out that the architecture wasn’t working. The new version runs on ARM processors, which should make them run cooler and more efficiently. It should also make Google TV hardware easier to produce, meaning lower prices: “Android is very much aligned around ARM in general. Switching to ARM significantly simplifies … implementation and onboarding on devices.” [Note: the LG TVs will run their own processors built by LG, but expect a bunch of ARM-based devices to follow this year.]
- Live TV emphasis. The first version of Google TV seemed like a Web-for-TV add-on — a product type that has never worked. With the new software, Google has added a “Live TV” icon, and made live TV more prominent throughout. “Customers told us ‘I do not want my Netflix right next to live TV programs.'” Eventually, Chandra believes, customers will stop distinguishing between sources of video. But for now, people still think of TV differently — and want a product that reflects that.
- personalisation. The old way of finding video — looking through channel numbers — no longer works when there are so many different sources. Search is one way to fix this, but Google TV will also offer personalised recommendations. Those recommendations will come not only from your Google TV activity, but from things you do elsewhere on Google, like searches, YouTube videos you watch on your computer, and content you download from Google Play. (You have to be signed in for all this to work.) Chandra told us that there’s tons of room for improvement in this area. For instance, when you call up the Sports section, it should show your favourite teams first, and alert you which games are going on now and how close they are.
Chandra also said that while Google really doesn’t care which kinds of devices show up with Google TV first — that’s up to hardware partners — he believes building it into TVs will “be the primary driver for the next several years.”
Eventually, once customers figure out the value of Google TV, standalone boxes will make more sense, simply because people don’t want to replace their TV every couple of years.
We’re still sceptical that Google TV, or any interactive TV product, solves a real problem that most people have today.
Cable TV channel guides may suck, but people aren’t that picky about what they watch on TV, unless they’re tuning into a particular show, in which case they know exactly how to find it.
But viewing habits are changing, with more people turning to online video, particularly YouTube.
Eventually, Google’s vision — making it easy to find all kinds of video content, regardless of where it came from, and watch it on the big screen in your living room — will make sense. It remains to be seen if Google can be the company to capitalise on that vision, or if Apple, Microsoft, or another competitor will get there first.
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