As the noise grows around an Apple television set, Google quietly rolled out a software update for Google TV on Friday. The update aims to simplify the user experience and Android app functions.
Google first launched Google TV in 2010 on Sony television and Logitech set-top boxes. Dubbed Revue, Logitech's sales didn't exactly take off. But Google isn't giving up on the project.
"The initial version of Google TV wasn't perfect, but launching it gave us the opportunity to learn," Mario Queiroz, vice president of product management, and Vincent Dureau, director of engineering at Google, wrote in a blog post. "These are still early days, and we're working hard to move forward with each update."
Queiroz and Dureau say the Google TV interface is much simpler in version 2. A new, customizable home screen aims to help users find their favorite content quickly. Within the "all apps" area users can see shortcuts in much the same way they appear on Android phones and tablets.
"We've improved search across the board for content from Live TV, Netflix, YouTube, HBO GO, and more," Queiroz and Dureau wrote. "But what if you don't know what to search for? There's now an app called 'TV & Movies' that let's you easily browse through 80,000 movies and TV episodes across cable or satellite, Netflix, Amazon, YouTube and many other sites. If you've opted in to recommendations, we can better predict what you want to watch next."
Google also launched a new YouTube experience specifically built for Google TV. YouTube is also more closely integrated with Google TV search so that consumers can turn virtually any topic into a channel.
"Android developers can now bring existing mobile apps or entirely new ones to TV. Initially, the number of apps won't be large -- apps requiring a touchscreen, GPS, or telephony won't show up -- but 50 developers have seeded the Market with cool and useful apps for the TV," Queiroz and Dureau said.
Will Samsung Buy In?
Colin Dixon, a senior IP analyst at The Diffusion Group, said people will look at round two of Google TV with a more critical eye than the first version. Much like Apple's rumored foray into television sets, Dixon said Google is trying to do something vastly different with Google TV than it has done with handsets.
"The challenge will be to partner with manufacturers to put Google in their box," Dixon said. "I like Google's model, which is free. They don't charge the manufacturers to integrate the platform into the box -- but they do expect to be running the commerce that's going on through that."
Google said an update would be available for Sony, but didn't mention any new partnerships with other TV manufacturers. Dixon doesn't expect Samsung, the leading television manufacturer, to embrace Google TV at this point.
"Google will be scrambling to find a partner who will work with them out of the gate. I suspect they may be able to get one of the second tier manufacturers, such as a Hitachi or a Sharp or somebody of that ilk that wants to roll the dice and see if they could make a splash," Dixon said. "But I would be very surprised if any other of the top five television manufacturers went with Google TV."