Google TV devices like Logitech’s Revue set top-box were supposed to be the iPhone of Internet TV devices. Instead, they became the G1. Shunned by critics and ignored by consumers, even Google seems to realize that it needs to turn around its TV platform before moving ahead with further rollouts.
The New York Times reported Sunday that LG, Toshiba and Sharp are postponing the official unveiling of Google TV devices at CES. The trade show was supposed to be a big coming-out party for Google TV, but the company changed its mind at the last minute due to the lackluster reception of devices already running the operating system.
In the meantime, Google seems to be working on a major overhaul of the platform to address its critics. That’s good, as Google TV definitely needs a lot of improvements. In fact, I’d like to offer some unsolicited advice on how to turn this around and save Google TV.
1. Google TV Needs Simplicity
The current iteration of Google TV is far too complex, offering many layers that leave users confused on how to start. Search is at the core of the platform, but Google TV also offers an excellent TV show directory — only, there’s no link to it. You have to search for it. Then there’s a separate podcast directory, which is inexplicably linked to a personal queue. There’s also a list of shows currently on TV, but half the time, Google TV instead opens up your cable TV provider’s programming guide. Finally, there are native apps, which are kept separate from web apps. Simplifying this will go a long way toward making Google TV more user-friendly.
2. Google TV Needs Apps
Google TV Product Lead Rishi Chandra told us at NewTeeVee Live last month that the first Google TV devices purposely weren’t delivered with apps (check out my interview with him below). The iPhone, he reminded us, didn’t have apps either when it first came out. Instead, it delivered the full web, creating demand for websites that would display both on the desktop and on the small screen.
That’s true, but the current Google TV devices are no iPhone. If anything, they’re more like the G1, Google’s first Android phone. No one stood in line for the G1. It had many flaws, and it definitely wouldn’t have been capable of singlehandedly changing the web. Still, it was a decent phone, and it kept getting better, thanks to the Android Marketplace. I know this, because I owned one — and I know that I wouldn’t have bought it without apps. Google is scheduled to roll out Android Marketplace access for Google TV devices in early 2011 — but in hindsight, this should have happened much sooner.
3. Google TV Needs A Killer App
Of course, simply porting some apps from Android phones to TV devices won’t cut it. What Google TV really needs is a killer app, and there’s no one better equipped to develop it than Google. Case in point: There are an estimated 200,000 apps available for Android phones — but if you ask Android users which app they can’t live without, most will tell you in a heartbeat that it’s Google Maps with turn-by-turn navigation. What will be Google TV’s killer app? I don’t know yet, to be honest — but Google should start to test some of its ideas as soon as possible.
4. Google TV Needs to Embrace Cord Cutting
This is a biggie. Google TV is all about enhancing your pay TV experience, and as a result, the company has ignored cord cutters. Instead, it’s tried hard to play nice with broadcasters, only to see nearly all major networks block Google TV devices from accessing catchup episodes online.
Google hasn’t gotten where it is now by appeasing, but by disrupting. From GMail to Google Voice to Google Docs, undercutting other companies’ price points has always been a big part of this strategy. So why not offer TV for free? Here’s what Google should do, together with one of its hardware partners: Develop a DVR capable of recording over-the-air HD programming as well as accessing the web, then offer the monthly service for free. A product like this might put Sezmi out of business and accelerate TiVo’s demise, and it would help people to understand why they need to invest $300 in a Google TV box when an Apple TV goes for $99.
5. Google TV Needs to Be Social
This one is going to be the biggest challenge for Google, because social networking has never been part of its DNA. However, search alone doesn’t cut it anymore when you want to offer people all the video on the web, in addition to their traditional TV programming. Google TV should instead use social recommendations to tell people what to watch. Boxee has done a great job incorporating Twitter and Facebook video recommendations into its own Boxee Box. Google already a bunch of social data it could leverage in addition to these external social graphs, ranging from YouTube subscriptions to GMail contacts. Now it needs to make those work to make Google TV more user-friendly.
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