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Google to sunset Google TV brand as its smart TV platform merges with Android

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Google (s GOOG) TV is dead, long live Android TV: Three years after launching the first generation of Google TV devices, Google is now looking to rid itself of the brand and realign its smart TV platform efforts more closely with Android. The move is part admission that Google TV failed, part hope that Android will eventually find its place in the living room.

Google apparently isn’t quite ready to announce the switch-over yet; a spokesperson contacted for this story declined to comment. However, an executive from a consumer electronics manufacturer that has been producing Google TV devices confirmed the rebranding in a recent conversation with GigaOM, saying: “They are calling it ‘Android TV.'”

Google’s partners, developers have stopped using the name

Some of Google’s hardware partners have already made the switch. Sony introduced a new smart TV adapter dubbed the Bravia TV stick last month. The device is based on the most recent version of Google TV, but Sony’s announcement didn’t mention that fact once. Jamie Marsh, TV marketing manager for Sony Electronics, was instead quoted saying that the device “brings the full power of Google services to your TV.”

Sony's latest TV stick is based on the latest version of Google TV, but you won't find that mentioned in any of its marketing material.
Sony’s latest TV stick is based on the latest version of Google TV, but you won’t find that mentioned in any of its marketing material.

Sony isn’t alone with this kind of wording. Geneva, Switzerland-based chipset manufacturer STMicroelectronics announced support for Google TV products last month, but also refrained from using the brand in its announcement, instead saying that its new SDK “allows the development of Android-compliant devices and supports the latest Google services for TV.” And LG recently showed off some new devices at the IBC in Amsterdam that were described as Android devices with access to “the latest Google services for TV.”

Even members of the original Google TV team have started to drop that name when talking about their work. A recently-scheduled developer event in Seoul was officially called “Android TV Developer Day,” and some developers have started to change affiliations in their online biographies from “Google TV” to “Android TV.”

The use of both “Android TV” and “Google services for TV” suggests that Google may not have finalized the new branding for its TV efforts yet, or that it may use a variety of brands depending on the target audience. It’s unclear when the company is officially going to announce the switch.

TV devices will run the latest version of Android, offer more options

For Google TV, this is more than just a name change. The TV platform was launched three years ago based on Honeycomb, the Android version that also powered Google’s first steps into the tablet world. Google’s latest tablets now run Android 4.3, but Google TV is still stuck on Android version 3.2, which makes it much harder for developers to bring their apps to the TV screen.

Google announced earlier this year that it would update Google TV to the latest version of Android, which would allow developers to use the same APIs available on mobile devices. The upgrade to Android 4.2 was officially announced for Q3, but word is that LG will now update their Google TV devices later this month, with other manufacturers following in the coming months.

Android has long moved on, but Google TV users have been stuck with Honeycomb.

Google recently announced the latest version of Android, code-named KitKat, which could be available as early as next week. The company said earlier this year that consumer electronics manufacturers will be able to more easily upgrade their TV hardware to the most recent version of Android after the switch to 4.2, and one should assume that manufacturers will have access to KitKat as soon as it is released for mobile devices.

Of course, when and if devices are going to be upgraded to KitKat depends on each manufacturer, which will apparently have more freedom with other device design choices as well. Originally, Google required device manufacturers to include a full QUERTY keyboard as well as a variety of other hardware specs with each and every Google TV device.

The next generation of Android TV devices running Google services could possibly be a lot more customized, with manufacturers picking and choosing from a range of services and apps. Vizio CTO Matt McRae told us earlier this year already that some future Google TV devices may ditch live TV and look more like a Roku box, and Google’s new approach toward Android on TV seems to make these kinds of devices possible.

Google TV’s long and painful struggle

Google had big ambitions for the living room when it first unveiled Google TV back in 2010, but the first generation of Google TV devices was widely rebuffed by both consumers and content providers. TV viewers didn’t like the complicated set-up and unwieldy keyboards of Google TV devices. Broadcasters didn’t appreciate the idea of consumers being able to watch free web content on their TV sets and started to block Google TV from accessing their websites.

Sony's first-generation Google TV remote control had 80 buttons.
Sony’s first-generation Google TV remote control had 80 buttons.

It didn’t exactly help that Google TV was initially based on Intel’s (S INTC) architecture. The chips made Google TV devices a lot more expensive than competing boxes from Roku and Apple, severely impacting sales. Logitech, a manufacturer of a first-generation Google TV companion box, lost millions on its bet on the living room, forcing Logitech CEO Gerald Quindlen to resign.

Google gradually improved the Google TV experience, beefing up voice search and partnering with additional hardware manufacturers, but the platform nonetheless never really caught on with consumers. Neither Google nor its partners ever released any sales numbers, but judging from app install numbers available on Google Play, one can estimate that there are just about 1 million Google TV devices currently in use.

Google already has a winner: Chromecast

So why did Google finally decide to rid itself of the brand? The upgrade to the latest version of Android seems to be the main factor, but chances are that the surprising success of Chromecast made the decision even easier. Google hasn’t said yet how many Chromecast devices it has sold since first introducing the product in July, but anecdotal evidence suggests that sales are going very well: Not only was Chromecast sold out for weeks, it’s currently the number one selling electronics device on Amazon (S AMZN), outselling even Amazon’s new Kindle models, as well as its direct competitors from Apple (s AAPL) and Roku.

Chromecast is currently Amazon's best-selling electronics device.
Chromecast is currently Amazon’s best-selling electronics device.

But Chromecast isn’t just more successful than Google TV. In many ways, it encapsulates everything Google learned from Google TV’s failures. Consumers and critics mocked the unwieldy remote controls of early Google TV models; Chromecast doesn’t come with a remote at all. Google TV’s early UI seemed too complicated when compared to its competition; Chromecast doesn’t have any UI that has to be navigated on the TV screen. Google TV tried to compete with too many platforms; Chromecast ties in closely with both Android and iOS.

Google has already said that it wants to make the core casting capabilities of Chromecast available to other consumer electronics manufacturers, but it hasn’t said yet when or how this is going to happen. With Google TV being rebranded, I wouldn’t be too surprised if we see Google Casting become just one more Google service for TVs – some of which may even run Android.

Honeycomb image courtesy of Shutterstock user Lev Kropotov.

33 Responses to “Google to sunset Google TV brand as its smart TV platform merges with Android”

  1. I have a Sony Google TV. I use to be able to watch HBO Go. Now I can’t. I paid $200 for the device. Now, the $35 Chromecast has HBO Go but not the Google T.V.? Absurd. This is infuriating. You cannot create brand loyalty by cutting off early adopters and people who helped providing funding to support future generations of technology. My prior software allowed HBO GO to work, then an update cut off that functionality and months later, here comes Chromecast. It is outrageous.

  2. guest3278

    Well, we already have “The user interface formerly known as Metro” and “The artist formerly known as Prince” …so now we have “The internet video device formerly known as Google TV”. This will no doubt create more confusion in the mind of the consumer. That LG “mini box for Android” is just too cool though, and I would probably buy it so long as it does not spy on me like those LG “smart” TV’s do.* I would DEFINITELY buy it if someone else made it, because my experience with LG products is that they are really trashy; they always break as soon as the warranty is over; they often dont bother to fix legitimate interface bugs, and for some products it is virtually impossible to get the firmware updates because they are not posted on the web site and half of the tech support drones dont even know they exist. LG is barely one step above the chintziest Chinese brands, and Sony is just as foiked-up in other ways: their Blu-Ray players dont play half of my store bought movies due to “copy protection”, and if they think I will buy an overpriced Sony TV just to get that Bravia TV stick they are dreaming.

    • Bob Bigellow

      It’s also ironic that your website is hosted on Google Sites.

      So, they’re using the same technology that you patented to manage the data transfer and handshaking?

  3. Dalton Aeschlimann

    Just recently picked up a Vizio Co-Star, which runs off of GoogleTV, its already quite Android-ey you can tell. Its a fantastic platform the Vizio Co-star, remote is nice, it isnt perfect, but it works well. Its smooth and does everything we needed it to do. My parents wanted something to browse the web with on the tv, and use apps, without the use of a smart phone/tablet, and GoogleTV offers that. Love my Vizio Co-Star! =D

  4. Google TV is sooo much better than ChromeCast. It already IS “Android TV” and I already could simulcast things from my computer.

    Glad they are renaming it – glad they are updating it. Bet me that Mr. Chromecast (I have both) has never used Google TV. Where is the controller – oh your smartphone ‘kinda’.

    CC is a great idea and a SUPER price, but personally I don’t like the interface – why can’t I watch TV through it? Now I have to switch inputs .. *LAME*

    I’ve had 2 Google TV products – one logitech the other sony. Finally ditched the logitech (too slow) to another sony – both blu-ray players .. yes the controller does not light up – but Google makes an app that you can control your google tv from your phone or tablet OR computer.

    • I just replaced my TV with a Samsung with 3D. Too my surprise the Sony Google Bluray also supports 3D. Saved me $149 for a new player. If Sony would only upgrade it with 4.2 it really would be the best on the market.

    • I have Sony Google TV and the Bluray player, most apps will not run. VUDU, RedBox streaming HBO GO, not supported on the 1st generation models. No support from Sony as the products are 3 years old.

  5. virtualCable TV

    The Chinese have been flooding the market with “Android TV” boxes and sticks for over a year. IMO that’s where the common sense re-branding came from.

    Google does need to step up to the plate and get off their @ss with updates and such. The company has a history of release-and-snooze services many of which have been totally discontinued.

    Google cannot afford to get out of the business of connected TV. Search for yourself. There is so much money in the business of TV nobody knows how to accurately count it.

    So not to worry. A little name change and realignment with the markets is how business works.


  6. I really like my Logitech Revue Google TV. At $99 it was a great deal. At $300, not worth it. I use Google TV daily. The biggest disappointment in GTV is that it doesn’t close the loop. I can search for movies/shows and I get a list of what’s available on various sources on the net and on my cable box. It needs to include Netflix and Hulu. But the biggest problem is that if I select the shows on my cable, instead of being able to set it for recording from GTV, it drops me back into the God Awful Comcast interface where I have to select the show and set it for recording. This integration would need a lot of co-operation from content providers and that’s not going to happen.

    And of course the fact that the UI is still stuck in 3.0 doesn’t help. On the other hand, I just love the remote. You’d have to be crazy to think that a TV remote without a querty keyboard is better for surfing and searching on the net than the one that comes with GTV.

  7. I have never understood the dissatisfaction with these TV’s I love my NSX-40GT1. I find it so much nicer than my standard TV’s in my other room’s in the house that are not interactive at all and only display content based on the devices you attach to it. This TV interacts like a large Smart Phone or a all in one PC with a large display. We absolutely love it in our home.

    • I have one as well and love it. What a shame that it didn’t take off, search, TV apps, Web all overlaying the TV was nice. I don’t think I could adjust back to a non qwerty remote when this thing dies. I find it more comfortable and useful.