Convergence - we’ve been talking about it for so long, I almost hesitate to bring it up again. Here’s the story in a nutshell - Without your TV, convergence amounts to a hill of beans. Apple has been on the cusp of creating a compelling version of convergence - and there have been glimmers of hope with Microsoft’s Xbox. But the latest Apple TV has fallen short and it’s been almost a year since the Xbox 360 launched its integration with Netflix, Facebook, and Twitter. The story of Xbox 360 and Apple TV can perhaps be similarly stated - Without the Web, convergence amounts to a hill of beans.
Now finally, I think we have a compelling vision of the future - with Google TV.
Of course, this isn’t a product review. There are many better places for that. Ultimately, what I’m interested in is the interplay between broadcast content, web content, and applications. And that’s where Google TV lives.
On the surface, the whole thing might seem very familiar. Even after watching the promo materials, (and before I had a chance to try it), I found myself thinking “haven’t we seen this before?” I mean, hasn’t the “Web met TV” before? You know… in a gadget called “Web TV?” I have my own point of view about the whole web-on-tv experience… in a past life, the fine folks at Web TV gave me device so I could optimize sites and evangelize the product. From a developer’s perspective, I found Web TV interesting - but rendering was slow. From a user’s perspective, without any true integration between Web content and TV content - who really wants a big keyboard on their couch?
It’s easy to see why Web TV failed. And at times Google TV can seem like Web TV all over again… browsing can be slow at times, and the Logitech Revue does have a keyboard.
But what’s striking is what Google TV gets right. This isn’t just the Web on your TV. This is Google for your TV. The first thing I did was a “Live TV” search… I Googled “ocean” and got a list of ocean-related content that was currently playing that I could immediately watch, and related content that would be playing in the future, which I could immediately DVR. That mental model - the Google search model - replaces channel surfing and aids content discovery in a profound way. Shark week will never be the same.
The “Live TV” feature was great, but I decided to turn on a football game. When the commercials came on, I opened up Google Chrome and watched the latest AOTS Around the Net segment, while still watching the game using picture-in-picture. In fact, once the segment was over, I turned the game off, and browsed to Comedy Central to watch the latest Colbert Report. And then to PBS Frontline just to see how other content might fare… everything worked great, and after accessing the vast content that is available from sites like PBS you get another idea of how this is different. Much of the video content is clickable and interactive.
In much of broadcast “interactive video” is thought of as a zero-sum game. It brings up questions of who creates the specialized content, how would consumers access it (ie did it have any mass), and who would pay to produce it? But with a TV that’s not just web-enabled, but web-friendly - interactive video is a natural and abundant alternative, even complimentary, source of entertainment. Of course it is. Yet, it’s a shift that can easily be downplayed, even while it is changing the nature of both how we watch TV and how we create TV content.
And I haven’t even mentioned the Android app platform or the coming TV app gold rush. The installed apps (especially Pandora, Netflix) are great and, while there’s no app store currently, when you look at how apps are changing how we consume Internet content across mobile devices - it’s easy to imagine how much apps alone will change TV consumption.
Google TV is a major milestone in a set of devices that will change how we consume TV. If it’s allowed to, that is. It’s clear any Web-on-TV device is going to have to navigate a whole range of issues brought by content providers and carriers. It’s also clear that the stakes just got a lot higher. Everyone wants a piece of the biggest screen in your house… the big question is how the pieces will be divided and if, after the feeding frenzy, there’ll be anything left for you.
(photo by flickr.com/egarc2/2437521787)