Search giant aims to expand footprint with global rollout, improved equipment
Google TV is angling to get out from behind Apple TV’s shadow and regain the spotlight.The search giant’s struggling entry in the smart-TV category will take a big step forward together with partner Sony on the global launch of a new and improved version of the product in mid-July. But expectations are high that Google will also announce even more innovations to Google TV at its annual I/O developers’ conference, which begins Wednesday in San Francisco. Though Sony’s take on Google TV 2.0 should help redress some of the shortcomings that have plagued the product since it launched weakly two years ago, still more may be needed if Google is to be taken seriously as a competitor in the living room to Apple and Microsoft. Also on the wish list at I/O is for Google TV to announce more content partners. The service has been hobbled from its inception by lack of co-operation from both the broadcast networks and some of the leading streaming services such as Hulu and MLB.tv. Google TV will be accessible via Sony’s NSZ-GS7 Internet Player, priced at $199, will be available in the U.S. on July 22, with pre-orders starting June 25. The U.K. will be next, followed by France, Germany, Netherlands, Canada, Australia, Brazil and Mexico. The new version will include a new remote control, replacing the keyboard that was widely derided for being too bulky to be consumer friendly. It will also be integrated with Google Play, the Android-operated marketplace that brings together all types of content for purchase or rental. In addition, search functionality will be simplified to bring TV and online content together. NSZ-GS7 will be a set-top box, though Sony will also produce a second version integrated with a Blu-Ray player and voice-search functionality. “Google TV attempts to address the problem that there’s not really a great experience to access the Internet on your TV screen, which is a similar problem we saw in the smartphone market five years ago,” said Suveer Kothari, head of global TV distribution at Google. Sony was one of the first companies that partnered with Google when Google TV launched in 2010. Sony’s commitment to sticking with the project is impressive, considering another charter partner, Logitech, bailed after burning through $100 million and negligible sales. But more partners are coming into the picture, with LG, Vizio and Samsung also on board. While Google TV has stumbled out of the gate, the fact that, unlike Apple TV, it is on the market at all is an advantage. Though the device has gotten much negative attention, Google TV was always seen internally as an iterative launch. Just being in the game could give Google TV a head start on working through the myriad issues that could ensnare any paradigm-shifting technology — even those produced by Apple. Though Apple TV currently only exists as a set-top box with a small installed base, that hasn’t stopped rampant speculation that it will either evolve into, or be integrated with, an Apple-branded TV already being hailed as a gamechanger despite the fact that no such product exists yet. Microsoft has also emerged as a force in the living room, with its XBox console providing an installed base of over 40 million who are subscribers to streaming content via XBox Live. Microsoft boasts a broad array of premium content partners and is starting to innovate with companion devices as well under its recently announced Smartglass technology. Newly-launched Surface tablet will likely also end up in the cross-platform mix, but Microsoft has been mum on exactly how so far. Hopes are high that I/O will yield technology for Google TV similar to Smartglass or Apple’s Airplay, which allows content to migrate from wireless devices to the TV screen. That could open up Google TV to third-party developers capable of producing apps that will turn content into two-screen experiences — a hot area of innovation in video now.
Follow @Variety on Twitter for breaking news, reviews and more