Google has unveiled the second version of Google TV, and this time it promises to keep it simple.
The first version came out about a year ago and was pretty much universally panned for its complicated interface and lack of real usefulness — it didn’t offer enough clear value to justify the expense and complexity of adding another device to your TV setup.
Unsurprisingly, sales were slow, and it looked like Google might abandon the whole project.
Instead, Google took the criticism and went back to the drawing board.
Google TV 2.0 is a major software update that will be pushed to existing customers starting today. There’s no new hardware yet, but expect that to come in the next few months as well.
Product manager Mario Queiroz explains that they focused on fixing three main problems:
- Too complicated. For Google TV to work, it has to feel like TV. Major changes in this version include a home screen that keeps the TV window front and center — content sources (like live TV, Netflix, or YouTube) and apps are arrayed along the bottom, and all represented by simple icons. Google also worked with media companies like the New York Times and Wall Street Journal to create special video channels that consist of all the videos already available through those companies’ Web sites, but displayed in the main TV window.
- Too hard to find stuff to watch. The first version of Google TV focused on searching for content. Google still believes this is the best way to find specific items in the increasingly massive amount of video, but a lot of times people don’t know what’s available — they just want to browse. So this time, Google added a comprehensive guide that arranges all video by category. Users don’t have to know what source it’s coming from — regular television Netflix, YouTube, whatever — although there is a special Live TV channel because that’s probably what people will be most often interested in. Over time, the guide will get more intelligent based on your past selections — if you watch a lot of Seinfeld reruns, expect to see Curb Your Enthusiasm up top.
- Too much like using a computer. Too many of Google’s Web properties and third-party apps looked like they were simply Web sites or applications ported to a big screen — which is exactly what they were. With this round, Google has revamped YouTube completely so that when you type in a topic like “Miley Cyrus,” you’ll see an entire “channel’ prepopulated with her videos, with full-length videos favored first. It has also created brand new photos and music apps that are laid out for TV viewers, and seeded the app marketplace with third-party apps that translate particularly well to TV, like Thuuz, a startup that helps you find sports to watch on TV based on how exciting the games are right now.
Google still believes that TV is in the middle of a fundamental change from hundreds to millions of “channels,” and that’s where the opportunity for Google lies: helping consumers make sense of that huge trove of video.
It still seems like a stretch to get customers to pay an extra $100 for a box that sits between their TV and cable box just so they can get a bunch of different video sources in one place. The better long-term path seems to be building Google TV directly into new television sets like Sony has done, so users will simply get it when they buy their new TV.
Lastly, what about money? Where’s the business model for Google TV?
Queiroz refused to talk about monetization plans in detail, but said that it fits into Google’s general strategy of getting users online from as many places as possible — just like Android with mobile phones. Once they’re there, Google has lots of ways to make money — showing display ads, guiding them to search, and selling them apps.
Stay tuned to see if it actually works.
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