Google TV: Back to the drawing board may be best bet

Google TV: Back to the drawing board may be best bet

Summary: Word is that Google is rethinking its approach to Google TV. That's probably the best move if the company really wants to revolutionize television viewing.


It's easy to beat up on Google for reportedly slowing down the pace of Google TV rollouts amid some less-than-glowing reviews. The New York Times, citing unnamed sources in a report over the weekend, says that Google is going back to the drawing board on the Google TV software and has asked its manufacturing partners to pull the plug on any big flashy coming-out parties at next month's Consumer Electronics Show.

But instead of beating up Google for even attempting to do something as bold as trying to change television viewing habits, I choose to applaud Google for recognizing that the first attempt at Google TV had some shortcomings and for taking it back to the lab to fix what didn't work.

I've said from the beginning that I like the concept behind Google TV - blur the line between traditional broadcast television and the growing list of Web-based video offerings by replacing the on-screen channel guide with a search box. But that didn't mean I was a fan of Google TV out of the gate.

As other companies have known for years, trying to bring the Web into the living room is no easy task. Old habits die hard and the idea of using a keyboard and mouse to search for TV programming is about as unwelcoming as putting a bulky desktop computer in the entertainment center - a common move by some Web TV predecessors.

Still, the shortcomings of the hardware and software wasn't Google's biggest problem. Before Google TV or any other variation of it can generate some mainstream interest, Google needs to start doing some educational outreach - and not just to consumers.

Google needs to reach out and work with potential Hollywood partners - notably, the traditional television networks - so that they understand that Google TV isn't trying to lure viewers away from the programming but instead is trying to expand the reach of those programs. (They're sure to have some questions for Google about the advertising models, as well.)

Yes, Google needs the Logitechs and the Samsungs and the Sonys of the world to help get its technology into the living room. But it can't just leapfrog over the networks and other content providers. Google has to work with the networks to make sure that they understand Google's motivation, strategy and long-term vision.

Television viewing is almost sacred - and anything that rocks the boat is sure to face a long, uphill struggle before it can even begin to make a dent. Consider the DVR, which hit the scene nearly a decade ago with big expensive TiVo boxes. Back then, the idea of pausing or rewinding live TV was a total head-scratcher and the mere suggestion that people zip past commercials while watching time-shifted television was blasphemous.

Today, the cable and satellite folks build DVRs into their set-top boxes, selling consumers on the flexibility of being able to watch whatever they want from wherever they want. It's no longer a deterrent, but rather a positive differentiator.

Google has the potential to fill a void that TV watching consumers don't even realize they have - just like DVRs gave us something new to enhance the viewing experience. But it needs to go back to the drawing board and rethink what it really wants Google TV to become. Bringing a PC-like Web browser to the living room screen - along with a keyboard and mouse - isn't the winning approach.

There's a there there when it comes to revolutionizing TV - and so far, Google has come the closest to making it happen. But there's still a lot of work to be done.

I certainly hope The New York Times' unnamed sources are right about Google TV at CES. The product could benefit from a time-out while Google figures out its next steps. For Google TV, it's not a matter of "if" but rather "when."

Someday, Google will revolutionize television - but today is not that day.

Also see: Google TV's upgrade: Good incremental steps toward something better

Topics: Hardware, Google, Mobility

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  • Wasnt *existing* GooTV already declared "future of TV" by sm bloggers here?

    It is good that Google had responsibility to take the project on hold despite sugary delusions that company's fans created in their reviews.
  • Why give google a free pass?

    This was a product that was poorly designed and so it deserves criticism.

    Likewise, it seems that if a product isnt a huge success at launch, a la Apple iAnything, then it is deemed a failure. So by ZDNet standards, this is a huge flop.

    But seriously, I was hoping for a better product as the initial description of Google TV was very interesting. AppleTV seems the best bet at this time.
    • It's the Release Early, iterate often concept of Google.


      While it works in the web space of "free" products where updating only means a single server (or a group of mirrored servers), it is not the same in consumer space where people are actually paying money for a product.

      Google needs to start realizing if they really want to compete in the consumer space, they need to actually start designing products with end users in mind. Not throw some stuff out there and see what sticks and start tweaking, tweaking, tweaking...
      • Google does not innovate

        @Bruizer They just copy or buy.

        The only innovative product from Google is Google Earth ... and that was something they got when they acquire Keyhole.
  • Too Many Issues

    TV-OIP (Television over IP) has a number of issues right out of the gate that aren't going to be easy to overcome.

    It would be one thing if Americans didn't already have great cable service, but we do. Sure, we bitch about it a lot, but let's face it, our cable service is pretty amazing...a thousand channels of clean signal, one remote, and DVR interconnectivity. Most of us don't worry about our cable signal breaking up or dropping, and we don't have to read for a keyboard to surf the channels.

    The truth is, TV-OIP isn't ready, just not ready for prime-time.
  • The answer is here...

    I know it?s off topic, but please indulge me.

    As a dedicated Windows Media Center user these articles are frustrating to me. The future that the author is referring to is here already and has been for some time. WMC strikes the best balance of providing access to internet-based video while focusing most heavily on traditional viewing habits (on-screen guides, DVR functionality, and remote-control operation). It has passed the ultimate test? even my wife and kids use it on a daily basis (and would miss it if it were gone).

    Admittedly, Microsoft has not closed the deal and still has work to be done but remains the closest to realizing the ?future? of TV viewing. Some suggestions for the future for WMC:

    1) They have successfully partnered with Netflix and CBS. Now, they need access to Hulu video and ESPN3 (Xbox has it already, so it shouldn?t be unrealistic). I think this is all viewers want? Hey google, nobody wants to watch YouTube on their big screen TVs! Also, I?ll never understand why MS can?t seem to stream their own network, MSNBC.

    2) Incorporate WMC into the Xbox360. Not simply as an extender, but as a stand-alone unit. Perhaps they could sell WMC along with a USB tuner for the Xbox? have it record shows to the Xbox hard-drive. This would provide direct competition for TiVO but without the subscription fee. While they are at, how ?bout if they tried to incorporate WMC into windows home server. If WHS supported tuners and WMC, it could truly be the focal point of a home media network.

    3) Add extender functionality to TVs. I believe it?s been done before (by HP?)? but they need to try harder. I mean there is a large percentage of people that have a networked windows PC and an HDTV. If they could talk via WMC and provide access to media files? that would be a quick win for everybody.
  • It's all about the content

    The platform that wins will be the one that has the content. Any web-based TV viewing program and any IP-based set top box is seriously lacking at the moment.
    Apple TV: Doesn't include anything from NBC. Even for the channels it does carry, there are big holes in the lineup.
    Google TV: The large networks have actually blocked Google TV from being able to play back their web streams, pretty much eliminating any the purpose of the device.
    Hulu/Hulu Plus: Again, lots of shows missing, such as Leverage, Damages, etc.
    Netflix: Good for movies, not so great for anything TV. Seems like the only TV they have is stuff that's come out on DVD, and then only from the less conservative networks.

    Of all these, Hulu seems to be the one with the content. But how many living room devices have Hulu+ embedded?

    And one more thing. Can anyone tell me what is meant by this nonsensical phrase: "There's a there there."
    ("There?s a there there when it comes to revolutionizing TV - and so far, Google has come the closest to making it happen. ")
  • Feel bad for early adopters

    Gee, I feel bad for early adopters. Many who might not find out until Christmas day that they have a Lemon. Seems to me we are too kind to Google who obviously jumped the gun on their TV service.
  • Sam, don't confuse"rocking the boat" with "it just works"

    It's easy to dismiss it all as "people being scared of things that rock the boat": I call that lame.

    What Google TV [b]doesn't[/b] do is to make it a simple, brainless task; as easy as pressing the channel button.

    Look, if you want to believe that [i]Google will revolutionize television[/i], go ahead, but you really have to sit down and understand what the majority of people want out of their TV's [b]then[/b] make a determination or statement like that, if it warrents it.
    John Zern
    • Exactly

      @John Zern
      I forgot who wrote this, but I agree that the most salient reasoning on why every internet TV initiative to date has failed is very simple -- techies are trying to sell consumers on TV platforms that require them to "lean forward" when all consumers really want from their TVs is something that allows them to "lean back."

      The entire premise of Google TV and every other internet-centric TV platform is that consumers want to actively search for programming in much the same way they do for web content. But, like web surfing, searching for TV programming is fundamentally a "lean forward" activity.

      TV viewing OTOH has always been a "lean back" activity. TV viewers don't want to engage and interact. They want the devices to just get the hell out of the way -- click a button or two and be done with it. Google TV is nowhere near that level of abstraction, and seems more geared towards ever growing complexity and connectivity. Might appeal to tech bloggers and geeks, but not your average TV viewer.

      Sam talks about the DVR as a "positive differentiator" yet he doesn't even realize that DVR usage is only around 35%. And even with three decades worth of time-shifting video devices in people's living rooms (remember the VCR?), over 2/3 of TV viewing time remains with live broadcast programming. People turn the TV on, lean back, and watch whatever's currently on.

      If/when this revolution ever happens, it will not be because someone packed a bunch of web browsing and social networking features into a set-top box.
  • Sorry, but . . .

    The TV and the Web DON'T MIX!
    Gerald Shields
  • RE: Google TV: Back to the drawing board may be best bet

    Google's big mistake was not finding out BEFORE they launched that the networks would block their service. Can you say stupid...
  • Google TV might have been successful

    Google might have been successful. Google failed to bring any real innovation.
  • RE: Google TV: Back to the drawing board may be best bet

    I don't want google on (owning/tracking/selling) my TV -- sorry, those information scourers already have too much insight on what we do. Why believe they are the 'chosen ones' to integrate TV and the web and revolutionize television? That's one scary dream.
  • RE: Google TV: Back to the drawing board may be best bet

    IMHO: Bothering my tired old eyes looking at it, I believe the date of that Google TV statement will be worth remembering. Especially for traditional TV broadcasters and advertisers. I'm also certain Apple's twist on freedom of speech versus Google's will become very apparent in a couple of years.

  • I love my GoogleTV

    Last night I spoke into my 1st Gen android phone (a G1) and said "Monday Night Football" I didn't have to type a single thing.

    I was watching football in less than 2 seconds.

    You see the voice search feature that comes inherant with Google's Android OS is amazing. No typing needed.

    Not sure what everyone's hang up is, but I'm pretty sure it's people who don't own one who are commenting negatively. People who are writing these articles who don't have a googletv.

    Buy it, play with it, learn it, and love it, because it's good and it's not crippled.

    Nice thing too, they will update it when they "finish going back to the drawing board" as you say. I'm not worried and I love my googletv.
  • I'm an early adopter

    My husband and I are always up to try new technologies. Though I'm disappointed with the amount of options Google has available currently - there is great potential. I love the fact that I can watch music videos without having to get sucked into the MTV reality TV programming.

    I love the convenience of not having to go to my office to do simple tasks like check my email or pay my bills, I can do that right from my couch with Google Chrome.

    I like the new "lean back" feature with youtube. You can pick a subject and have it stream random videos connected to that search.

    I enjoy the fact that I can log in with my gmail account and access all of my spreadsheets and tools right there. As they get more of the android applications available on google tv - this will just get better.

    Using a keyboard can be rather clunky for basic things, but both of us also have android phones that interact seamlessly with the Google TV allowing us to utilize our phone as a remote device.

    The biggest thing that I think it is lacking in comparison with the XBOX and Windows Media or the MAC and Apple TV is that I cannot see my computer, my ipad, my XBOX or my playstation to tap into the media that is available within those devices. Atleast with Windows Media you can see your windows devices and view pictures direct from your computer. I am sure the improvement will come as we start to align more with the idea of "cloud" computing, but that's a ways away and requires more effort than the average consumer would typically want to put into it. We're geeks, so, we don't mind the puzzles.
  • RE: Google TV: Back to the drawing board may be best bet

    I use Google TV in our home, and I have to say that it is pretty neat- and it is easier to use than most people would believe! Being an employee at DISH, I got to play around with it before I purchased it. My kids love it and its easier for me to actually monitor what they are doing from the internet because the whole family gets to see what they are doing. I absolutely love it!
  • RE: Google TV: Back to the drawing board may be best bet

    Just ran across this post and wanted to provide a little bit of my experience with Google TV. I actually work at DISH so I had the opportunity to play around with it before it was released and from how it worked, the performance was flawless. I know that there is some negative stuff going on but I have not had any issues with it. I am very impressed with the innovative technology that is designed into it. It has made watching TV and browsing the internet so much easier. This product works great full internet search. This lets me see all my shows or recordings all at the same time. I love the voice activated remote. The preloaded apps are great too.
  • RE: Google TV: Back to the drawing board may be best bet

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