Eric Schmidt, the executive chairman of Google, has reportedly been in Seoul searching for a deal with South Korean companies Samsung and LG Electronics, which now lead the market for flat-screen smart televisions. Samsung is still hoping to launch Google TV products in 2012. LG is expected to show products at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Samsung quietly showed Google TV prototypes at the last CES but has yet to announce any products.
Many have been quick to write off Google TV, following its disastrously derided launch with Sony and Logitech. To be sure, Google got their initial approach completely wrong, driven as they are by excellence in engineering rather than entertainment experience.
Sony made the mistake of launching a product with a ridiculous keyboard. At the time, informitv questioned whether this represented the genuine hypertextual hybrid marriage of television and the web for which we have all been waiting or the hyperactive illegitimate child of both. It seems it may have been the latter.
With Sony heading for its eighth successive annual loss on its television business, predicted to lose $2.2 billion this year, it can hardly afford such mistakes. Stories now abound that Sony is planning to offer an internet television service to take on cable and satellite platforms. Whether Google TV will be a part of this remains to be seen.
After being burned by backing of Google TV to the tune of around $50 million in what Logitech chief executive Guerrino De Luca recently admitted was “a mistake of implementation of a gigantic nature,” the company has discontinued production of its Revue companion box. He acknowledged that the initial pricing of $300 was a “big mistake”. The company has been selling remaining stocks of the boxes at $99. A software update is still expected which will upgrade them to the latest version of Google TV.
So why would Samsung and LG want to get involved with Google TV, when they have been promoting their own smart television platforms? That is a question that informitv has repeatedly put to representatives of the companies, which have so far been cagey about any commitment to Google.
The answer is that Google TV offers an operating system and application environment that could do for smart televisions what Android has done for smart phones and tablets, namely create a credible alternative to Apple. That could be all the more important if long rumoured plans by Apple to develop a television screen product come to fruition.
The smart television market is technically fragmented, and even with their leading share of the market, Samsung and LG have yet to establish mindshare among application developers anything approaching that of Apple.
Samsung, LG and Sony have just under half of the market for large screen televisions, according to DisplaySearch.
It clearly makes sense to have a similar operating environment across televisions, tablets and smart phones if one is to compete with the ecosystem advanced by Apple.
While standards like HTML5 may go a long way to levelling the playing field for developers, more complex behaviours arguably require an operating environment that supports full applications.
At the OTTtv World Summit in London, Suveer Kothari, the head of international business for Google TV, said he saw “a lot of opportunity” for the Google TV platform. He conceded that while the first release had been very computer centric, Google had learnt lessons from that. With support for the Android app market in the current release, he said it was attracting more interest from application developers. “We’ve taken Android and added the features needed for connected TV,” he said. “Google TV is effectively Android for connected TVs.”