Google TV: Some Web smarts for the idiot box?
SAN FRANCISCO--Google's engineers are apparently tired of watching TV with a laptop on the coffee table.
The keynote that opened the second day of the Mountain View, Calif., firm's Google I/O conference featured an extensive tour of the next version of Google's Android smartphone software. It also included an excruciating number of technical snafus. But its most important news didn't come until its second half: The launch of a new software and hardware bundle--developed by Google with help from Intel, Adobe, Sony and Logitech--that's supposed to make browsing the Web as easy on the big screen as on the little one when it ships this fall.
Google TV combines two proven ingredients from Google: Android and its Chrome Web browser. It replaces your TV or cable/satellite tuner's program guide with a simpler version that indexes both what's in your 100 or 200 or 300 channels and what's waiting on the Web. It emphasizes search instead of browsing: Instead of clicking through a seemingly infinite program grid, an interface pushed to its breaking point by ever-more-expansive pay-TV packages, you use a remote with some sort of QWERTY keyboard to type your search--or you could use an Android phone and type or speak your query into that.
You can watch a show in one corner of the TV screen, then use the rest to browse one Web page or another. You can also have Google TV schedule a recording on a separate digital video recorder, once you wire the former to control the latter.
Since Google TV runs Chrome and includes Adobe's Flash player, it should handle any online video. But individual sites, such as the occasionally uncooperative Hulu, can still choose to block Google TV. And since it's Android underneath, it can also run many Android apps. It will also let you stream music and video from other computers and the Web through your TV.
Dish Network will also support it--an important factor, given the high level of pain frequently involved in hooking different video gadgets together and getting one to control another. But by making it easy to supplement "real" TV with what's on the Web, I could also see Google TV appealing to people who have ditched their pay-TV services in favor of a mix of over-the-air broadcasts and online fare.
What I'm most interested to see, however, is what other name-brand companies in this space do next. Considering the clumsy or apathetic efforts by other companies--think of Apple's sadly neglected Apple TV--the market badly needs somebody to shake things up. (Boxee represents one exception to that pattern.) And Google seems positioned to play the same role here it did in Web mail: Remember how limited and crude Hotmail and Yahoo were before Gmail's debut?
After the jump, you can watch a two-minute introductory video Google's posted. And in the comments, please let me know what you think of Google's sales pitch.
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