The keynote presentation by Google TV’s Head of International, Suveer Kathari, at last week’s Informa OTT TV conference said very little about Google TV, even though it did present some useful insights on future market trends. For the record, Google’s key predictions include:
1. TV will become more personal and social
2. TV will become more engaging, especially through improved discovery
3. there will be more “glocal” content: local content delivered to global audiences
Not too many surprises there. The concern has been that Google, like so many PC- and mobile-centric players, still sees the TV as an extension of those legacy models. We’ve heard it so many times, but just to confirm: Google believes smart TV will follow the smartphone path, including the apps and store models. It was this limited vision that helped to create the disaster that was Google TV 1.0, and resulted in a $50m black hole for its partner, Logitech.
So what are Google’s plans for recovery? Well, it has already launched the second version of its Google TV platform, which has been downloaded to Sony Google TV devices and will upgrade the Logitech Revue devices over the coming weeks. Google TV 2.0 is essentially Android 3.1, according to Kathari, and includes Android Market. Kathari claims that apps developers are “very interested” in the big screen opportunity. Google TV market can accommodate all Android apps which do not rely on specific personal and mobile device capabilities, such as touch screen and GPS. In fact there are very few Android apps designed specifically for Google TV today: one example includes Plugplayer, a UPnP media streaming app which has accumulated between 10 and 50 downloads during the past month.
In response to my question, Kathari confirmed that Google TV will be an “open operating system” able to be modified by its device partners. However, during a one-to-one discussion, a senior industry executive cast doubt on this notion of openness, noting that Microsoft was receiving many millions of dollars in licensing fees from the Android platform. Regular readers will be familiar with my own issues with the notion of “openness” in any technology domain, which seems to be very much in they eye of the beholder.
Nevertheless, Google does finally seem to be appreciating the magnitude of its earlier mistakes and adjusting to the unique requirements of the TV model. Interfaces and user experience are one thing, and we will certainly see excited crowds flocking to see the latest LG, Samsung and other Google TV devices at CES in January.
Business models are very much another matter. Never say never, but our research so far suggests people, yes, even early adopters, want to watch TV on their TVs, not browse lecture schedules or check their email. As Google’s latest partner, Samsung, noted, the TV apps space is going to evolve very differently to those on smartphones.
I’m sure that a handful of apps, especially in games, will emerge as star performers from the efforts of Google, Apple and CE manufacturers, but there is a strong consensus that the opportunity in TV relative to the smartphone and tablet spaces is somewhat limited. Rather than broadcasters, it may be PlayStation, Xbox and Nintendo which should feel more threatened by the dawning of the TV apps era.
(Visit Apps World next week in London where you'll hear from key speakers about the TV apps industry.)