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Tom Simonite

A View from Tom Simonite

A Sneak Preview of Google TV

Will users embrace a TV experience that relies on a keyboard in your living room?

  • October 4, 2010

Everyone in Silicon Valley is talking about TV right now and Google just gave a preview of its own assault on this form of entertainment, which eats up 153 hours a month of American’s time. Scroll down for a short video showing it in action.

One big question mark over Google TV is whether large numbers of people will welcome a TV experience that requires a keyboard. Both Apple and Yahoo claim that all their consumer studies show that people don’t want a computer-like experience in the living room. Yet as the demo video on today’s official blog post and the new webpage for the service both show, Google TV relies heavily on typing and hence a Bluetooth keyboard.

If you have an android phone you can use voice recognition to search. My feeling is that making it possible to enter text with your smartphone rather than a keyboard would persuade more users to get over this.

Google’s other challenge is summarized in its deceptively simple slogan “the web meets TV”. Fact is that it’s not a case of just combining the two: web pages are designed to be used from 18 inches away not a few yards and so a lot of the web just can’t be good looking or usable in the living room.

The less-than-TV-optimized Amazon webpage that appears in the video embedded here is a reminder of that. After the user selects a show from the main menu they are pitched onto what looks like the regular Amazon webpage, which looks tough to use from the sofa.

From the moment it announced the product back in May, Google has been pushing tools at web designers to “help” them make versions of their pages suited to a TV screen. Today we learned that new versions of CNN, the New York Times and other sites have been created, but there’s a lot of the web out there and it will be interesting to see how much of it gets redesigned for the living room.

Google’s third challenge is content, as I noted when the service was announced in May. The owners of the real attraction of TV–great shows–are leery of the computing-centric upstarts moving into their market. Apple’s partnerships with ABC and Fox on its revamped TV product show that deals can be struck even if they represent relatively little progress towards realizing the potential of combining premium content with a connected TV. So far, though, Google has no such deals.

Even so, today Google announced that Google TV will from the start have integrated apps from Netflix, Amazon Video on Demand and Pandora, representing indirect access to the content that really makes TV work for viewers. Tie-ups with CNBC and HBO–to provide a financial news app and access to a web-based catch up service respectively–were part of today’s news. But for the moment the dream of being able to start watching any TV or movie content whenever you want it remains just that.

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