If Google TV is such a game changer - and I absolutely think that it is - then why is Apple TV still a "hobby?" The short answer to that question is that Apple TV is a product while Google TV is a platform.
Google TV is the name of the technology, but when it comes time to bring the experience to your living room, that technology will be the foundation for a product that has a different brand name on it - perhaps Sony or Logitech or DishNetwork.
During a press conference at Google I/O today, the company - flanked by CEOs of their Google TV partner companies - noted that the TV ecosystem is ready for a new way to surf. The traditional on-screen guide offered by the cable and satellite guys is outdated. The content we're watching - whether on TV or the Web - is vast and scattered. And, in a DVR age, the time schedule really doesn't matter either.
Google, through the use of search, is allowing users to jump right in to a viewing experience that should have a relatively low learning curve. A search box is pretty easy to understand and Google is harnessing the power of the results to give users what they want. If you want to watch an episode of South Park, for example, you type in the show's name and get a lineup that includes actual TV airings of that show - whether it's on Comedy Central now or a CW affiliate later tonight - as well as the places where you can find it on the web, likely on ComedyCentral.com.
In some ways, it's unfair to compare Google TV to Apple TV because they do very different things. Apple TV is more an an extension of iTunes, bringing that content - music, photos, purchased videos (but not rented ones) from iTunes on the Mac/PC to the living room screen. Aside from YouTube, it wasn't bringing any Web content into the device. And it certainly wasn't bringing third-party apps into the Apple TV experience.
I've argued in the past that Apple's exclusive agreement with AT&T on the iPhone allowed others - Google, Palm, RIM and others - to innovate and develop competitive products. The same could be said about TV. Apple continues to sit on Apple TV and snub it, slowing its advancement and downplaying it as a hobby.
TV, with its 4 billion or so viewers, is hardly a hobby. Between content and advertising, viewer loyalty and even the celebrity element, TV is a big business that's bursting at the seams, eager for a "new way" to watch.
Yahoo is already ahead of the curve with its Yahoo Connected TV but it's not quite an apples-to-apples experience with what Google is offering. Yahoo is using widgets to bring in Web content - but things like Yahoo News headlines and Flickr images - into the TV experience. I like what Yahoo is trying to do but you have to recognize the significance of allowing users to search for Web-based video content and bring it directly into the TV viewing experience.
As for the partnerships, both Google and Yahoo are on the right track by building the technology that powers something that their partners - as well as developers - can harness and expand on. Google has already proven, through Android, that that model can work.
If Apple is at all serious about being a player in Web-enabled television content, it's got its work cut out for it.
Google TV is slated to become available in Fall 2010. Pricing details have not yet been released.
See more Google I/O coverage:
- High fives for HTML5 at Google I/O
- Google I/O Day 1: Cheers and Jeers
- Google I/O: Wave’s biggest challenge is the learning curve
- Google I/O: The effects of luring the Enterprise into the cloud
- Google I/O: App Engine, VMWare partnership further boosts enterprise offering
- Google I/O: Show kicks off with push for HTML5, browser computing
- Google I/O: mSpot streams personal music collections from the cloud