The release of Google TV 2.0 is imminent. It was supposed to be available in the United States before the end of the summer. Developers were told in May that existing devices would be updated to the version of Android known as Honeycomb, which has already been overtaken by a new release. While the first release of Google TV failed to impress many, the presence of Android applications on television could be the start of something.
Google has now released Android 4.0, known as Ice Cream Sandwich, which aims to unify the application environment across mobiles, tablets and presumably televisions. The first product to run the new platform will be the Samsung Galaxy Nexus smartphone, which will be launched in November. In theory, it should be possible to upgrade any device from Android 2.3. Google plans to release the source code of the latest version of Android, once it is available on devices.
Eric Schmidt, the chairman of Google, told delegates at the Edinburgh International Television Festival at the end of August that: “We expect Google TV to launch in Europe early next year, and of course the UK will be among the top priorities.”
At the Connected Home Summit in London, chaired by William Cooper of informitv, Suveer Kothari, the head of international at Google TV, confirmed that the new release of Google TV would be available in the United Kingdom “before Christmas”. He said that it would be available as an upgrade for existing Google TV devices, including the first generation Logitech Revue.
The main addition is the availability on Google TV of a subset of applications on the Android Market that have been adapted for television. There are currently over a hundred such apps, including Twitter and Pandora, with a handful of television brand associated applications, such as CNBC, CNN Money, Fox News and QVC.
So far there is nothing like the wealth of applications available for Apple iOS devices, although these are not yet available for Apple TV.
Google has opened a movie rental service for Android users in the United Kingdom, raising the question of whether something similar will be available on Google TV.
Of course, Google also owns YouTube, and is responsible for one in every three minutes per viewer of online video viewed in the United States.
That said, the killer application for the television is still television. While Channel Four and Five in the United Kingdom provide many of their programmes on YouTube, viewing figures remain small compared to broadcast. An episode of The Inbetweeners, for example, received 1.12 million views over two years.
British broadcasters are still backing their own approach to connected television in the form of the YouView consortium, which has yet to launch a product, although it says it is on track to do so in “early 2012”.
Google TV avoids any attempt at televisual presentation, with a functional interface that lacks the flair of Apple TV or even some of the many third-party media streaming devices.
While companies like Samsung have enthusiastically adopted Android for their smartphones and tablets, they have their own environment for smart televisions. That could change and Android could yet become standard operating environment for network-connected televisions, creating a potentially powerful ecosystem of applications that work across mobile, tablet and television screens, providing a challenge to the apparent supremacy of Apple. As such, Google TV remains one to watch.