Google TV: Too Little, Too Late?

Granted, it's all rumor and innuendo, but there is some truth to stories about a Google TV set top box for living rooms. Unfortunately, it's all too, little too late…with one possible exception.

The idea is that Google would use its deep pockets, open software (Android), and increasingly dexterous teams of developers to do what no one has managed to do in nearly 30 years: make people want to surf the Web on TV. (Wait, you say, the World Wide Web hasn't been around that long. True, but a little something called videotext was tried before. You could surf for celebrity gossip, order pizza, check your horoscope…sound familiar?)

First, it's true that Google is working with Intel on getting what's currently on your computer onto your TV screen. Everybody is working with Intel on that. Intel will be rolling out WiDi this fall in a big way, for example, and it's already on Core-based laptops sitting in stores now: they just aren't advertising it yet. WiDi is a wireless way of sending what's on your computer to your TV. And, yes, Google's working with Intel on that (as are many others). Why? Because you need a 10-foot UI (user interface) to make the Web work on a TV, and so far no one has delivered a 10-foot UI (except Microsoft's Xbox 360 and Netflix; Vudu's a distant 3rd).

But as to producing a Google TV set top box, that ship has sailed. First, Sony already has a set top box capable of doing everything that the rumored Google TV box might do. It's called the PlayStation 3. Would Sony like some tighter integration with Google on the PS3? You bet, and you can also count on some expanded capabilities later this year with the Sony Dash (Google can help there, too).

The set top box ship has sailed? What about Boxee? What about Roku? What about Tivo?

What about them?

Consumer electronics companies–the big Kahunas of the global tech marketplace–are putting Netflix, Vudu, Pandora, Twitter–you name it–directly on TVs and Blu-ray players and anything else they can think of (see this story in The New York Times). They are not waiting for Google. Samsung is writing its own apps for its own app store; Panasonic has been running its own server farms for years. Most of them are unhappy with how things have gone with Yahoo! (too slow and not enough apps rolling out the door). And they definitely are not fond of Intel (too expensive). And they don't think Jerry Seinfeld is very funny, either.

So the consumer electronics companies look poised to do an end run around not only the cable companies but also around all the computer and Web companies. Forget about Flash and Silverlight. The consumer electronics companies are passing those by, too (except for supporting Flash to handle graphics). From the consumer electronics companies point of view, they are finally going to free themselves from the shackles of the cable companies. So they are not likely to give any ground to a new master. To wit, the slow, agonizing death of Apple TV.

So what might happen? Google could possibly make some headway into the living room if the company could come up with an acceptable revenue model to help Hulu and its ilk. And the broadcasters behind Hulu are looking for something–anything! The content creators need to be paid, and they can't keep simply blocking the PS3 and Boxee. What that model might be and what Google could offer on the advertising side remains to be seen. (A good solution could even bring The Daily Show back to Hulu.)

And there's the little matter of the DVR. Standalone boxes aren't necessary, and it's certainly not necessary to keep paying cable companies for storage. So now that electronic program guides are available directly on TVs, how long until someone puts DVR functions directly on the TV, too (note some of Vizio's features in this regard).

So, maybe videotext wasn't such a great idea. And maybe all people will really want to do on TV is watch TV and make the occasional Skype call. But there's still a lot of money–and marketing leaks–betting on the idea that you and I want to surf the Web on TV.

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About jquain

Technology reporter, writer, and television correspondent, JQ has been covering the computer, communications, and consumer electronics industries for more than 25 years.A contributor to The New York Times, Popular Mechanics, PC Magazine, U.S. News & World Report and many other publications, JQ appears on CBS News television program Up to the Minute and on Fox Business.
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