Analyst: Google TV moving at 'appropriate pace'

Updated software and hardware, as well as new partners, mean Google's TV hopes remain alive, but it will need to contend with Apple and manufacturers integrating Android into their TV sets, says analyst.
Written by Liau Yun Qing, Contributor

Google TV is still progressing at an "appropriate" pace during this experimental phase of development, despite manufacturers experimenting with different operating systems (OSes) and hardware requirements to bring Web-enabled TVs to reality, one analyst stated.

According to Kurt Scherf, vice president and principal analyst at Parks Associates, TV makers have shown their openness to the concept of Internet-connected TVs by exploring the various platform options. He added that Google TV--with its Chrome browser and keyboard integration--is targeted at the high-tech enthusiast market, whereas more mass market smart TVs would be built on an apps interface and using a remote control for navigation.

With these in mind, he said Google is moving at an "appropriate pace" with its Internet TV project. Project partners include Korean electronics giants LG Electronics and Samsung, Marvell, MediaTek, Sony and Vizio, Google stated at last week's Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas.

Google TV was first announced in May 2010 by the search giant, with Intel, Sony and Logitech the early partners. Since then, it has came up against both software and monetization challenges.

As for hardware issues, Scherf pointed out that the previous Intel chipset that Google used for its TV sets was criticized for generating too much noise and distracting users. The updated Google TV sets today run on chipsets from Marvell and MediaTek, the analyst said. Marvell, for example, has included its Armada 1500 chipset that was designed to not use a fan for cooling to reduce noise.

The earlier graphical user interface (GUI) and controller were also not as user-friendly as other smart TVs, which had a more graphical navigation experience, he noted. This has been improved, though, as partners have launched new interface controls and even voice control for their devices, he added.

Race for content partnerships
Google also faced difficulties in convincing major content owners to allow their programs to be broadcasted on Google TV, Scherf said.

"The networks and content owners don't trust Google to fairly share revenues that are achieved via the advertising that Google would marry alongside the content," he explained.

"This is still an issue for Google to overcome. They need to show themselves as an effective partner for the content owners--one that is willing to use its considerable reach to grow advertising and transactional revenues for them."

Competition with Android, Apple TV
As if those challenges were not enough, Google will also have to fend off Apple's TV offering, which is anticipated to be introduced in the near future. Cupertino was reportedly in talks with media executives on content and future features to be shown on its Apple TV service, according to an earlier report.

Scherf said the competition between Apple and Google in the TV space will be similar to the smartphone and tablet arenas.

"Apple's products garner a premium price and margin, while Google will likely 'win' in the volume space," he elaborated, adding that one key differentiator would be the companies' ability to convince content owners to jump on their respective platforms.

Google will also have to compete with TV makers that integrate its Android operating system in their devices, particularly in emerging markets such as China, the analyst noted.

Already, Chinese PC maker Lenovo had stolen a march on its rivals when it announced its K91 smart TV, which would run on Android 4.0 and boasts voice controls, two weeks ago. It will be available in China by the first quarter of 2012, according to an earlier report.

By developing Android-based TVs, hardware makers will have a greater ability to customize the interface, Scherf noted. K91, for example, will also allow Lenovo to offer access to its own proprietary Android-based apps store, he added.

That said, he noted the appeal in Google TV lies in its ability to more seamlessly marry broadcast and cable television with an Internet search experience, and this capability is more suited in developed markets with better broadband access compared with emerging markets.

Asia-Pacific consumers shouldn't hold out hopes for Google TV to arrive in the region any time soon, though.

A Google spokesperson told ZDNet Asia in an e-mail: "We're excited about Google TV and our new partnerships announced at CES. Our plan, however, is to focus on evolving the product and improving the platform for consumers in the U.S. market before bringing Google TV to other markets."

Japanese consumer electronics giant Sony also expressed similar sentiments. A Singapore-based spokesperson said: "Currently, the Sony Internet TV powered by Google TV is available only in North America and Europe. There are no plans at the moment to introduce it to the Asia-Pacific region."

LG noted that its Google TV is still in an early stage of development, and will provide more information when there's more to share.

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