Jun, 01 2010

[Excited about Google TV? Head over to our Google TV Forum on AndroidForums.com!]

Mark my words… Google TV is going to absolutely blow up. The reason? There are a bunch – many of which Vic Gundotra and Rishi Chandra identified in their Google IO keynote on Day 2 – but they’re very similar to the reasons that Android has quickly become the dominant (yes, dominant) mobile operating system over the past two years.

google-tvEvery fall, a slew of tech products and flagship devices vie for the hearts and dollars of holiday shoppers the world over. This holiday season we’ve already been promised Chrome OS Netbooks (and probably tablets) and it seems as though 3D TVs will make a push for popularity. Don’t forget that an avalanche of Android Phones will likely scramble for limelight, but if you ask me, Google TV will be THE must-have holiday gift (at least in tech) for 2010.

Allow me to explain…

Google TV: A Winning Concept

At Google IO, Vic Gondutra acknowledge that there were 2 very different Android-based devices on stage: one was a 3-point-something-inch phone and the other was 50 inch television. With the operating system running successfully on two very different environments, one could assume that Android could also be successfully integrated on all the screen-sizes in between. We’re talking tablets, netbooks, laptops, MIDs and more. It’s safe to say that Android itself has a bright future beyond phones.

So why will the TV be so successful when tablets, netbooks, laptops and MIDs have yet to really take off? It’s already the biggest screen in your house.

The HTC EVO 4G will launch on Sprint June 4th and immediately be one of the largest Android Phones on the market with a 4.3-inch screen. As long as it fits in your pocket, everyone seems to want bigger, brighter, faster and even more bigger (biggerer). While you’re doing all sorts of ridiculously awesome things on your Android Phone and perhaps playing on the web with your laptop, you’re often sitting directly in front of the biggest screen in your house which is unfortunately relegated to a single duty – television. What if the power of that HUGE screen could be unlocked to do so much more? It can… and it was just a matter of time before it happened. That time is now.

But wait – a phone, tablet or netbook would only cost a few hundred bucks while a new Google TV will costs thousands, right? Not really… you already own one.

While Sony will indeed be selling their “Sony Internet Television” – which will come “with Google TV” built in much-like Android Phones come “with Google” – you won’t need a brand new television to enjoy Google TV. With the help of 3rd parties like Logitech, you’ll be able to purchase a box that connects directly to your HD-capable Television to immediately enjoy all that is Google TV. Although pricing hasn’t been disclosed, I can’t imagine the unit will cost more than $200 or $300 which is on par with any other holiday gadget you’d be buying.

Perhaps we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Do we even know what Google TV is? Not completely, but Google explains the basics pretty well:

To sum that up:

  • Access typical television content in a revolutionary way with the ability to search television programs (and content, actors, dialogue, etc…) directly from your “remote” to help you find what you want quicker and easier.
  • Supplement typical television content with the ENTIRE web (*cough* Flash *cough*) that not only seamlessly integrates with your TV experience, but provides a new level of synergy.
  • Google TV is based on Android 2.2 so you’ll be able to download apps and games and use/play them directly on your Google TV

As the video stated, this is just scratching the surface. Put them into context and you’re really in for a ride. For example, how about using a few Android Phones with the Logitech Remote App, loading up an Android Game and playing a multi-player game in the same vein as Wii? I’m sure it’ll happen. How about translating foreign language television programs on-the-fly to read subtitles in your native language? Google already demonstrated that. Full-screen YouTube and DVR integration? Mark it 8, Walter.

In all fairness, these ideas aren’t brand new. Many of them (if not most of them) were thought of a LONG time ago and over the past several years other companies have already launched similar products, but with marginal success. So why will Google TV be any different? Openness and timing.

Open Momentum

Are you familiar with Apple TV? How about WebTV (now MSN TV)? These are already-launched products that share a similar vision with that of Google TV, yet they haven’t achieved mainstream success. The difference is that these were products developed by ONE company in hopes of creating a successful opportunity for that single company. Google TV wasn’t just announced by Google: Sony, Intel, Logitech, Dish TV and Best Buy all announced the product together at Google IO.

google-tv-schmidtWas this a formality? Absolutely not. Instead of one company building one product for the financial bottom line of themselves, Google has taken one concept and opened the opportunity to a multitude of industry leaders who will ALL be pushing for the product’s success. Sound familiar? This is the exact reason Android has become so successful.

When Google announced Android they didn’t just announce a mobile operating system, they announced the Open Handset Alliance. With an open source operating system that carriers and manufacturers across the globe could all utilize, the game was forever changed. This allowed us to wave goodbye to the proprietary operating systems responsible for lackluster feature phones with scantily clad features. Instead of one company pushing for the adoption of their precious baby, dozens of carriers and manufacturers would soon be building the best products and promoting them to the full extent.

Although Google is a big company with a lot of marketing power, that alone isn’t enough. But with Google facilitating the move towards a new generation of devices AND allowing all companies to benefit from the rising tide, Android – and now Google TV – have the combined resources and momentum to change their respectively rustic industries.

Now we’re just grazing the surface. Creating an open platform that these industry players ALL push will surely allow the product to get into the hands of consumers. But will the product be good enough that millions and millions of people will want it?

Open Development

You can already start optimizing your website for Google TV, but when the product launches this holiday season, the real madness will begin. That’s because Google will launch the Google TV SDK and Web APIs that will allow anyone to immediately begin creating applications and content meant specifically for use on Google TV. Remember to think about this in terms of openness; this isn’t Apple where developers create something that can only be used on one of a few televisions made exclusively by Apple. You create an application and it is immediately available on a wide range of televisions, created by a wide range of manufacturers, running on a wide array of television service operators, controlled using a wide array of possible remotes.

As the Google Team happily confessed at Google IO, Android wouldn’t be what it is today without the 180,000+ developers who made innovative and intriguing applications for the platform. Not only do they make any new Android Phone that launches automatic winners because of the sheer number of free and paid downloadable apps and games, but they essentially future proof your device as well. You buy a phone today but its capabilities continually grow through the availability of new applications and the push of new OS versions.

In short, others have failed because they’ve made the stand alone. Google isn’t too proud to ask for help. Nor does their ego require they earn all the riches and demand all the credit. Instead they create an opportunity for themselves AND others that – were it not for an open approach of diverse industry leadership and 3rd party support – might not reach its full potential. And up until now you’ve seen just that: next-generation television products that have failed to reach their full potential. But Google TV will be different.

Timing is everything

timingWe could go on for hours about innovative technological advances that were simply before their time and failed to gain the support needed to continue. Until that is, the timing is right and another enterprising individual or company continues where they left off under more favorable conditions.

Melding the web and television isn’t a new idea but up until now has mainly centered around watching television on the web. Using the web on your TV is a much more scarce, albeit not brand new concept. The problem with the web on your television is that it requires the prerequisite of quick internet access. There aren’t too many folks rocking dial-up these days, but even a few years ago the numbers were much more menacing.

Now Sprint is about to launch a 4G mobile network with astonishing speeds and Google is testing fiber for community internet use. A huge chunk of web enabled consumers have the necessary infrastructure to enjoy the Google TV offering whereas in previous years the potential market was much smaller based purely on a technological infrastructure gap.

Combine all this with increased ownership of big screen HD capable TVs and dropping prices of tech hardware and gadgets and you’ve got a great opportunity. And don’t forget the leverage Google has created with Android, not only because Google TV runs on Android but also because they’ve taken a similarly phased industry from complacently-slow-moving tortoise to wow-that’s-awesome fruition in the recent past (and will continue to do so in the near and distant future).

Price points, Demographics and Demand

Every holiday season people are looking for the “it” thing to buy as a gift, often for their kids. Usually it’s a gaming console such as the XBOX 360, PS3 or Wii or even a game that goes along with it like Rockband or Guitar Hero. The general investment is around $150 to $300 which, if I could guess, will be about the pricepoint for a Logitech Google TV Box. From a purely speculative price comparison standpoint, Google TV could easily become a popular holiday purchase since we KNOW how popular these consoles can be.

android-boxWhereas gaming consoles are usually reserved for kids and teenagers, Google TV will reach a very different market that also INCLUDES the younger segment. Sure, kids of all ages will love the ability to search for their favorite TV shows or browse the web, YouTube and more from their big screen, but remember how we talked about the huge opportunity for gaming through Google TV? Don’t lose sight of that because it is a very real and very big opportunity.

The shift in demographics occurs in the older segment: GoogleTV could be the “it” thing to buy college students and older. Personally (if you’re reading, sorry for spoiling it mom and dad) I already know I’m getting Google TV for my parents this Christmas. Would I ever buy a gaming console for my parents? Maybe Wii because it’s family oriented, but otherwise no. Google TV will spark ageless and genderless demand. It will be a product that anyone can buy for anyone else and it will just make sense.

Of course success and sales depend on the ability to convince consumers that this is something that they and/or their loved ones want or need. This will NOT be an easy feat, especially considering that it’s hard to grasp the concept of what Google TV is and how it will benefit you without understanding/foreseeing the realm of not-yet-existent possibilities. This is something often reserved for early adopters and tech savvy gadget lovers.

Big challenge? Absolutely. Can it be overcome? It can and it will.

Hands-On The Holidays

I’m excited about Google TV because even I don’t understand the implications it will have on my Television and web surfing habits. We get so familiar with doing one or the other that we fail to see how an innovative integration will truly change the way we approach the media with which we interact. The only way to completely understand is to experience it yourself – and that is exactly what will happen this holiday season.

best_buy_logo_3Google announced Best Buy as a launch partner and I can already picture it now: a heavily trafficked area of the store will be roped off with a HUGE Google TV display where consumers passing by can’t help but stop and look. Numerous TVs are set up as Best Buy employees demonstrate the product on one while consumers try it for themselves on a couple others. They’re kind of amazed at what they’re actually seeing. But how much does it cost? Well you can buy the TV for $X,XXX, the box for $XXX this remote for $XX, so on and so forth. Enough people will see it in action to want it and make it a hit. Not to mention I’m sure there will be some huge advertising dollars designated for Google TV campaigns alone.

If you ask me, the combination of everything above SHOULD make Google TV the holiday success of 2010, but everyone isn’t looking through the same crystal ball that I am. For those with a different outlook, they’ll visit their early-adopter-friends’ houses over the next month or two, see Google TV in action and at some point think, “I gotta have me one of these!”

Google TV is a concept that can’t just be explained – it needs to be experienced. Best Buy and other retailers will be the initial catalysts and pretty soon family rooms and living rooms across the United States (and later the world) will spontaneously become out-of-store demonstrational advocate facilities.

As you can tell, I’m incredibly bullish on Google TV. I was also incredibly bullish on Android; Afterall, I started this website the day Android was announced. People initially doubted Android would succeed. They didn’t understand the impact it could have and even if it could have that impact, they didn’t think an out-of-towner could galvanize an industry that had essentially become a dusty oligopoly.

But they did. The T-Mobile G1 launched during the holidays of 2008 and while Android didn’t became the runaway sensation I thought it would upon launch, it eventually would. Google TV will follow suit because, well… industry players won’t have a choice.

The Kicker

Consumers vote with their wallets and in the end, they’ll buy the products and services that are best for them. Yesterday mobile phone consumers just wanted their phones to call people and calculate the tip at a restaurant, now we’ve got an overflow of upset souls when a manufacturer fails to include Wi-Fi. There was a paradigm shift wherein the lowest common denominator was changed and the bar was raised. With the launch of Google TV the bar will be immediately raised and industry players will have one of two choices:

  • Attempt to offer their own competing service
  • Attempt to create their own partnerships offering a competing service
  • Adopt Google TV

What do you expect your TV to do for you? The answer to that question will change dramatically in the next several years. As consumers expect more, manufacturers and service providers will have to provide more. They can either attempt to provide more by roughing it themselves, or by using the open resources Google is offering to successfully enter this new market.

Competitors will already be offering products and services using Google TV and if they don’t follow suit they’ll face a huge disadvantage. There will certainly be a cost savings associated with following this path as the need to inform consumers and market/brand their product will be lowered significantly. Google TV will provide those who adopt it with a competitive advantage and for those who don’t initially adopt it, jumping on the bandwagon afterwards will be the path of least resistance and allow the opportunity to easily catch up. Some stakeholders may play the wait-and-see game as Verizon and AT&T did with Android, but eventually they’ll see the opportunity is real and hop aboard.


Snowball effect.

The Bottom Line

Google has created an environment where next-generation TV products and services can be built and promoted by absolutely any company or individual who wants in on the action. By taking an open approach where everyone (even competitors) can benefit and succeed, Google has created an environment where huge companies (even competitors) are comfortable joining forces to take an industry of mutual interest to the next level. Together they can help the water level rise higher than they could single-handedly, and ultimately by giving up total control each will enjoy larger success. And no, I don’t care if Steve Jobs disagrees.

For consumers, Google TV will change the way we interact with both television and the web. It’ll change the way we think about both. This shift will take time to accomplish and won’t be realized until the platform matures, but it’s eventual impact – even in a 2 to 3 year time frame – will be extensive and far reaching. Best of all, the potential is limited only by what developers and 3rd party providers can dream up and implement. We already know that Google will continually add new features to Google TV, but the SDK and APIs ensure that innovation is uncapped.

I’m pretty darn confident that Google TV will be the “in” thing for the 2010 holidays, but I could be wrong. Heck, I was pretty darn confident that Android would be the “it” thing for the 2008 holidays and I was wrong there. But I was wrong for all the right reasons and in my opinion, if I’m wrong again it will be for the same reasons. Google TV is poised to do for the television industry what Android has done for the Mobile industry… and to say “that’s a lot” would be the understatement of the year.

[Excited about Google TV? Head over to our Google TV Forum on AndroidForums.com or listen to our last podcast!]

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