Google announced a major software update for Google TV last week which, while not named as such, is effectively Google TV 2.0 and therefore gives us an idea of what we can expect when the Android OS based platform arrives in Europe next year. Officially Google has admitted that “the initial version of Google TV wasn’t perfect”, but at the IP Cable World Summit a couple of weeks ago, Suveer Kothari, Head of International TV at Google TV, was more frank. “The feedback we had was that Version 1 was designed by engineers and looked like a PC experience,” he said.
Previewing what has now been made public, he outlined the major changes for version 2.0.
The user interface is significantly different and the second thing, critical for the future, is the availability of Android Market on television so you will be able to download apps and the market can develop apps. Those are the two big differences. The third change is that we strongly believe that search is not necessarily the way you want to navigate on TV so we have worked hard on a lean-back experience for navigation.
Sony has been quick to make the update available on its ‘Sony Internet TV – Powered by Google TV’ range of devices, which is distinct from the company’s Bravia connected televisions and targets a younger and more multi-tasking and app friendly demographic. The CE giant views the integration of Android Market as a significant innovation and one that “will provide unique and customizable entertainment experiences” for consumers. It also hails the simpler and cleaner interface, improved performance, better search functionality and better integration with Android and iOS devices like smartphones and tablets.
The update will arrive on Logitech devices soon. Google is also promising more software updates plus new devices using new chipsets from multiple hardware partners in the coming months.
Kothari said Google has no ambitions to provide a content offering of its own on the Google TV platform (if you ignore YouTube), meaning it is not going to compete with online aggregators like Netflix. He emphasised that the strategy is to provide a platform that content owners, service providers and CE manufacturers can all work with. The company has been talking with Pay TV operators, though this is more about education than partnerships in Europe.
Kothari added that Google is not focused on how it can monetize Google TV at this point. The game-plan is the same as it was with Android on smartphones and tablets: build the platform and the ecosystem first.
If Nigel Walley, Managing Director of the media strategy consultancy Decipher, is right, then it will be very hard for Google to monetize this platform when it does try. He told Videonet recently that Google has no technical or commercial mechanism for getting a share of advertising revenues either from on-air broadcast channels or broadcast ‘player’ websites that consumers might access via Google TV.
Walley does not believe consumers will search the web for products and services via the TV, limiting revenue opportunities there. He argues that TV search can only be used successfully for video content and, given the dominance of broadcast channels and their related ‘players’ in the consumption mix, there is a limited opportunity for commercially valuable content searches.
Google has not fallen out of love with search, however. It is still well catered for on Google TV 2.0. The company says it has improved search across the board for content, ranging from live TV to Netflix or Pay TV apps like HBO GO. The company has integrated YouTube more closely with Google TV search, with the idea being that consumers can turn virtually any topic, from mountain biking to cooking, into a channel.
In keeping with its promise to make this version a more lean-back experience, Google has introduced an app called ‘TV & Movies’ that lets consumers browse through 80,000 movies and TV episodes across cable or satellite services as well as online aggregation sites. Consumers can also opt-in for personalised content recommendations. The user interface generally has been redesigned to improve content discovery. There is a customizable home screen to help viewers reach their favourite content faster and user shortcuts are visible within all apps.
Content discovery could be the key to success for Google TV 2.0. After studying the way people use the first version, through its Digital Home Observatory, consumer research company Strategy Analytics concluded that the lean-forward content discovery approach was a hurdle to usage.
Kevin Nolan, VP User Experience Practice at the company told a breakfast briefing at the Connected TV Summit in May that while the U.S. consumers they observed seemed to love the product in general, the need to search for content was the main reason they stopped using it. He outlined the main challenges as making TV more personalised without expecting consumers to do more, which looks to be an important theme in Google TV v2.0.
Google says Google TV is about complementing broadcast or cable TV by bringing “millions’ of new channels to the TV from what it calls the next generation of creators, application developers and networks. Clearly the availability of Android Market is a big step in this direction. Fifty developers have worked on the current selection of apps, which includes games like Angry Frogs, utility apps like FlightTrack (airline flight tracking) and news (e.g. CNN Money and Fox Business) as well as video and music. Not surprisingly, anything requiring a touch screen, GPS or telephony is not included!