I had a chance to get some hands on time with Google TV from both Sony and Logitech. Let’s start off and agree that re-inventing the TV experience is a necessary but also incredibly difficult task. Necessary because with the exception of the DVR, television simply has not changed that much in the past 50 years. Yes, we got color, then we got HD; but the overall experience has not drastically changed. Re-invention is in essence what Apple desired and still desires to do, and what Google is now putting a stake in the ground in order to attempt as well.
I say re-inventing the TV experience is difficult, because it is controlled by the service providers like DirecTV, Dish, Comcast, COX, etc. These service providers offer their customers a completely closed system in which to access their content, or premium content. So for a company like Apple or Google to make inroads with a TV experience that is as tightly integrated with a customer’s service provider is an uphill battle.
Google’s approach contains a few things that I like. First off, they are overlaying the Google TV experience on top of my broadcast cable experience. By this I mean I don’t need to switch inputs to go to a different box that provides me internet content I want. By integrating a smart search Google box right on top of my service provider’s broadcast, they have enabled a seamless Web/TV experience. This is a good start and to be honest, has a real shot at replacing my service provider’s guide in this implementation. Finding shows and getting information on shows, among other tasks, is a cumbersome process with the standard guide shipped on service provider’s hardware. If Google TV even remotely improves the selecting, finding, and navigating to things I want to watch it is a huge step forward.
I also liked the simplicity of the Google search box on the TV. I type in a show I want to view and I get my results regardless if it is live, in the future, or available on the web. What Google TV is missing however — and this is why service providers’ hardware would need to be involved — was the search results for a show stored on my DVR.
Lastly, I liked the integration of an Android phone with Google TV. Things like using your Android phone as a remote, or using the device’s keyboard, pushing a web page or video from the phone to the TV, and lastly using the Google voice search on the phone to control the TV are appealing to me as a consumer. Google’s voice recognition and translation technology works incredibly well. So using voice to control and search Google TV instead of typing into the Google search box is a great feature.
What I am skeptical about
I’m still not sure if the UI nails it yet. I do think it is better than the traditional guide or EPG, however I still felt that the UI was lacking and terribly intuitive. Particularly as it relates to shows available online. After a search when the online options were selected, the user had the option of going to every location where that show existed online. For example if you searched for “The Simpsons”, a Fox program the results gave the option of going to Fox’s website, Hulu, or to Amazon Unbox to watch or buy the show. Right off the bat I thought this was confusing because I as the consumer have now been presented with three options and no good assistance on how to make a choice.
I am also concerned about the technology implementation. What I mean by that is that people expect their TV to just work. The living room is a safe haven for consumers, a place to relax, unwind and not have to think — most times. I am concerned that Google and its partners over-complicate the experience with the technology.
All around, however, it is important to understand that we are very early in this shift to integrate broadband and broadcast worlds into the same experience. It will be interesting to see how the Logitech Revue and Sony Google TV’s do this holiday. My early opinion is that the experience will take off with early adopters and gadget enthusiasts but we are still a little ways off from mass market adoption of Smart TV’s.