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Care to Watch Google TV?

High Technology Product Reviews | Trends and News | Care to Watch Google TV
Just to complete my reviews about Google TV, on this post I wanna ask you a question. Do you want to view the Internet on your TV? With all of the activity in IPTV these days, this is one of the key questions that is at the heart of whether IPTV eventually succeeds or fails. Since TVs were invented, we have been trained to sit in front of them and consume not interact with them. And only recently have we had to multitask with our TV. Even though we've had picture in picture for years, it took news scrolls at the bottom of our TV screens to train our brains. So, how will consumers integrate the new and even more complex IPTV features into their TV viewing experience?

One of the traits of consumers that has emboldened the IPTV crowd to push forward is the fact that many people sit on their couch and use their laptops or tablets while watching TV. They reason that if they multi-task in this fashion, they may be willing do it on the bigger screen. While I accept the fact that people may want Internet content, such as movies, TV shows, YouTube, etc. on their TV screens, it is quite a leap to assume that people also want to read their newspapers and magazines or view Web sites on a big-screen TV.

Even with these concerns in mind, there are various approaches to IPTV emerging that are worth watching. Over the last couple of weeks, Google TV officially launched, with partners that include Intel, Sony, and Logitech. At the heart of their solution is Google's Android OS. In Sony's case, this is implemented in an actual TV, while Logitech's solution comes via a $299 box that sits next to the TV and delivers the full Google TV experience. My colleagues at PC Mag have covered Google TV in detail, so I won't go into the particulars.

However, I do want to point out that Google TV is based on an open approach to online content and has the philosophical view that a person should be able to view anything from the Internet on a TV if that's what they want. Google TV does offer UI shortcuts to movie services, music, pictures etc., but also includes the ability to type in any URL and gain access to any content on the Internet. The overall UI itself is okay but not great, and in some ways, it can be confusing since its goal is to make all content available part of the Google TV solution. I expect to see Google TV apps optimized for this platform in the future and that should help navigate through the content. But in its approach Google says to the consumer "the Internet and all that it has for you is yours for viewing on your TV." Or, "here is the Internet on your TV, you figure out what you want to do with it."

Apple's approach is completely different. In fact, compared to Google, you could call its approach minimalist. If you have iTunes and you've bought movies or TV shows, understanding how Apple TV works is second nature. When you launch the Apple TV screen, it looks a lot like what you get on a PC or Mac screen with Cover Flow. There's a simple layout for access to movies, TV shows, Podcasts, etc. In this case, Apple seems to suggest that what people want on their big screen TV are just the basics: movies, TV shows, and entertainment content on demand. While this approach is simplistic, there are probably a lot of things going on behind this approach. First, it appears that Apple is deliberately making sure that its offering is direct and not confusing to the user. Second, at the moment, it is not even trying to suggest that a user wants or needs direct access to Internet content beyond Netflix and other entertainment-related sites. And perhaps the most important part of this approach is the cost. At $99, it is consumer priced. It's also simple enough for the average user to understand, so it has a chance of getting some serious consumer interest this holiday season.

But there is something else going on with Apple¹s approach that is worth noting. People may not realize this, but Apple TV is built on the iOS operating system. While Apple TV is currently optimized for entertainment, it could also eventually deliver apps tied to things like news, weather, sports, etc. And given Apple's penchant for video conferencing with apps like iChat and FaceTime, it's not too far-fetched to envision Apple TV serving as a gateway for video conferencing in the living room.

While Google's approach is a full-out Internet assault on your living room's TV, Apple's approach may be best thought of as a back door approach: It delivers a media-focused Internet TV experience first, and then gradually offers more features that optimize the functionality of your IPTV solution.

The other IPTV product that is important to this discussion is the one coming from Roku. This started out as a $99 box that delivered Netflix on demand, but has expanded well beyond this. Roku now also offer Amazon's Unbox movie and TV service, as well as things like Sirius Radio and various channel offerings. In fact, it is ahead of both Google and Apple in that it treats Internet content as a channel. For example, is the Chow Channel on Roku. This particular channel has the video podcast of food reviews on Chow. Roku is constantly on the prowl to get more content, and I am told that it will be rapidly adding more channels. Roku's current versions are as cheap as $69.

Samsung also has its version of Internet TV, and in its case, the apps are more like widgets instead of channels. However, it is working with specialty software vendors directly to develop widgets that make content from your favorite site—Facebook, Youtube, Flickr, Yahoo News, TV Guide, USA Today Sports, etc.—available directly on the TV itself through any broadband Internet connection.

While I see all of these approaches being viable methods for delivering Internet-based information and entertainment to the living room, how each company actually does this will make or break its chances for success. If you just have the TV emulate the PC experience, then I think that approach will fail. On the other hand, if you turn the various Internet sites that might work on a big screen into channels, with viewing at the heart of the experience, and deliver an experience that consumers are used to on a big screen, then the chance of success is better.

We've been trying to bring the Internet to the TV since 1997 when Web TV was launched. Thirteen years later, we are barely scratching the service. All four of the aforementioned methods for delivering an IPTV solution are interesting next steps, but I feel that it will be another 3 to 5 years before IPTV finally cracks the mainstream consumer market.


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