Reviewing Google TV & Thoughts on the Internet+TV Space

Got mah Google TV box

My par­ents received a Google TV (the Sony ver­sion) for Christ­mas.  Being the vis­it­ing technophile, I was tasked with set­ting up the device and teach­ing my par­ents how to work it.  I had pre­vi­ously set up the exact same device for my room­mates over the sum­mer in San Fran­cisco, so I was famil­iar with the set-up and the device itself.  This post is a brief review of the set-up process, fol­lowed by my thoughts on the con­cept of Google TV and sim­i­lar sys­tems.

Review: Google TV

Instal­la­tion is fairly straight­for­ward.  Google TV sits between your cable or satel­lite box and your tele­vi­sion (or if you have one, your A/​V sys­tem).  Essen­tially, Google TV becomes a layer on top of your TV sig­nal.  The unit comes with infrared “blasters” that allow your Google TV remote to con­trol your cable/​satellite box (and A/​V sys­tem), and the remote itself can power on the TV and con­trol the vol­ume.

After you have the unit con­nected, you are taken through a fairly easy soft­ware set-up process.  Sync­ing the remote, con­nect­ing to your wire­less net­work, log­ging into your Google Account, and let­ting the device update are fairly pain­less.  Iden­ti­fy­ing and cus­tomiz­ing your cable/​satellite provider and pre­mium chan­nel options takes a lit­tle time, but after that, you’re basi­cally set.

The lat­est iter­a­tion of Google TV appears to be a ver­sion of the Android Hon­ey­comb sys­tem, which is sort of the tran­si­tion ver­sion of Android between the old-look­ing Gin­ger­bread OS and the futur­is­tic pol­ish of Ice Cream Sand­wich.  There is a ver­sion of Android Mar­ket with a hand­ful of Google TV-ready apps like Pan­dora, Twit­ter, etc.  I won’t spend too much time talk­ing about how Google TV works, but it basi­cally gives you a uni­fied way to search web video and TV list­ings, as well as the wider Inter­net.  There is a ver­sion of Chrome in there, and a cus­tom YouTube player.  You can find more details using your favorite search engine.  It’s not a bad expe­ri­ence for what it is.

The Miss­ing Link in Internet+TV

What I really want to talk about is why attempts such as these to meld TV and Inter­net fall short.  The key soft­ware fea­tures are in place, though there’s cer­tainly plenty of room for growth and inno­va­tion there.  The real prob­lem is the one that has plagued efforts in this space since WebTV came out in the mid-’90s: the key­board.

Well, it’s not really the key­board itself that’s the prob­lem.  Sony, Log­itech, and oth­ers have done as well as they could here.  The prob­lem is the expe­ri­ence of using a key­board to con­trol a device and screen that is 10 feet away from you.  It’s essen­tially the oppo­site of the expe­ri­ence that a tablet gives you, where you are almost lit­er­ally touch­ing the objects you are manip­u­lat­ing on the screen.  With Internet+TV, you really do feel the dis­tance between your­self and what you’re manip­u­lat­ing, even though you have the same con­trols avail­able to you as you would if you were oper­at­ing your lap­top com­puter: a key­board and a point­ing device.  It’s the feel­ing of being forced to play one of those arcade crane games to pick up a stuffed ani­mal: this should be so easy, but it is, in fact, extra­or­di­nar­ily for­eign and frus­trat­ing.

Here’s what needs to hap­pen in this space.  The expe­ri­ence should­n’t revolve around the TV.  It should revolve around a tablet.  The Inter­net does­n’t need to be inte­grated into the TV; the TV needs to be inte­grated into the Inter­net.  The TV device itself should just become a big screen that you throw con­tent to.  When you’re search­ing for a TV show, tweet­ing, cre­at­ing a Pan­dora sta­tion… it does­n’t make sense to be doing any of those things by using a key­board in your lap to oper­ate a device that’s 10 feet away.  You should be doing all of that in your lap, and then once you’ve selected some­thing the result shows up on the screen, whether it’s a video or pic­ture or even text.

The con­nec­tion between the user and the web is too inti­mate to be stretched across the liv­ing room.  The expe­ri­ence of Internet+TV should not be cen­tered on the TV, it should be cen­tered on the user.  A tablet is the per­fect bridge between the two.  I have my sus­pi­cions that this is part of what Steve Jobs meant when he revealed towards the end of his life last year that he’s “cracked” the TV prob­lem.  I think it’s a safe bet that the iPad will play a cen­tral role in what­ever Apple’s got com­ing next for TV.

Google TV is a not-bad expe­ri­ence, but that’s not say­ing much.  Adding the Inter­net to your TV is look­ing at the prob­lem back­wards.  The TV should just become your enter­tain­ment mon­i­tor, with the rest of the expe­ri­ence cen­tered on a tablet.

Image: cc-by dai­lylife­of­mojo (Flickr)