Google TV's CES New Product Launch Pullback - Unfortunate But Needed

Discussion in 'Google TV General Discussion' started by sparkyscott21, Jan 6, 2011.

  1. sparkyscott21

    sparkyscott21 Moderator Staff Member

    Nov 4, 2010
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    Northern Mich.
    As CES 2011 gets underway this week in Las Vegas, the biggest news in product introductions may well be the ones that aren't going to happen. Missing in action will be a number of previously expected Google TV partner launches. Does this, and the streaming video blockades established by many of the TV networks, mean Google TV is a "dead platform walking" or a "work in progress"? I vote for the latter.

    Two weeks ago, The New York Times broke the story that Google had asked consumer electronics (CE) makers planning to launch new Google TV devices to hold back their introductions. The reason, according the Times' sources, was so Google can "…refine the software, which has received a lukewarm reception." There were reportedly plans for a strong lineup of new Google TV CE maker launches, including LG, Samsung, Sharp, Toshiba, and Vizio (currently in-market are offerings from Sony and Logitech). According to the Times and a Wall Street Journal article, Toshiba will hold back its announcement, Samsung will proceed with its launch, and Vizio will show its wares in a private suite. No word on the other's plans.

    Google requesting a pull back on launches just weeks before CES is not something that will endear them to CE manufacturers. Considerable effort and expense goes into product engineering and planning, not to mention the marketing preparation for the show.

    But there is good news for Google and its partners amidst this dark cloud. While the Google TV software absolutely needs work on user interface issues (speaking as an owner of Sony and Logitech devices), the core functionality of the platform is just fine. When used properly by software designers, the devices do an excellent job of showing richly featured user interfaces and streaming true HD-quality video on a big screen TV. There's also good news in the "fix" - it's a downloadable update.

    Certainly, retooling is needed in the Google TV user interface (UI) and how it enables search and discovery for content and applications. On first blush, the UI is very attractive, but navigation is often confusing and illogical. Moreover, it does not scale well. Google TV's key content access screens ("Applications" and "Spotlight") work with 10 choices but become unusable very quickly with more. For a platform that aspires to hundreds and eventually thousands of content choices, that's a notable lack of forethought.

    Additionally, Google needs to apply some "tough love" to its content partners. The Google TV platform has a rich feature set that most content partners fail to take advantage of, either offering weak UIs or poorly encoded video (or both). And since a TV platform is ultimately about the content experience, many of the partners are making Google TV look bad.

    Then again, a few are getting it mainly right. A recent software update for Netflix has added recommendations and search to its (already excellent quality) HD video. Revision 3 also has a well executed UI designed for the big screen plus (near) HD video. Some providers have excellent HD-quality video content that is ultimately hampered by barely-functional UIs, such as The New York Times, Vimeo, and CNET. Some providers just get it all wrong, with inadequate UIs that lead to videos encoded for viewing on PCs and not TVs. (Major label music video service Vevo is the poster child for this – come on Vevo, you can do better.)

    What can Google do to fix the user interface issues? It can do what TiVo did some 10 years ago to create what arguably remains the most-loved TV device user interface – go outside the company. TiVo turned to noted (and now departed) broadcast design firm Pittard Sullivan. Google may well have used outside help for the current Google TV UI, but it is time to use some of that $33 billion in cash to get more (and pay for some much-needed help with content partners, as well).

    And what of the future prospects for Google TV?

    Google TV has a lot going for it. A capable delivery platform based on widely-used software tools (including HTML, Flash, and Android) coupled with an open business environment (no agreements are required for publishers). This means that expansion of Google TV-optimized content and applications could happen very quickly. Ideal timing for the release of a more user-friendly interface and search should be at the same time Google adds access to the Android App Market to Google TV (Google says this will happen in "early 2011").

    While a "hold" in the launch schedule is not great news, if Google can quickly deploy a more capable user interface, a few months slowdown at this point in time should not be a big negative in the long run. Google gives all indications of being committed to long-term success in the TV/video space. It has invested three years of effort in the Google TV project, and pulling away from a TV solution does not make sense for a company that has had so much success online and now in mobile. TV is the big prize after all – watching TV is America's #2 activity (after sleeping) with over 500 billion person hours of viewing a year.

    Google would do well to move quickly as competition is inevitable, especially from its current CE partners via native software platforms. Of the CE makers, Samsung has been the most aggressive in promoting its own TV application platform. Wednesday, LG announced their native TV device app platform called "Smart TV," plus plans for a standalone set-top called a "Smart TV Upgrader" that can be connected to any HDMI input equipped TV. If CE OEMs can agree on a common software standard for applications (for example, Adobe AIR), they might be able to offer a plausible Google TV alternative with a key advantage of being seen as less "threatening" by TV networks and multichannel operators.

    One thing is clear, 2011 is going to be a very interesting year for Over-the-Top video. We're going to see a continued acceleration in activity for Internet content and applications delivered to TV sets, a trend no doubt driven by the rapid diffusion of millions of new net-enabled TV devices into consumer homes. Will this offer a supplement to existing TV content business models or will it disrupt them? I'm looking forward to finding out.

    By Bill Niemeyer

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