Monday, December 20, 2010

Poor Reviews Delay Google TV

Google TVCES 2011, the huge upcoming electronics trade show, was supposed to be the huge unveiling of Google's new software for televisions, which would add a bunch of computer elements to the TV including Web video from sources like YouTube. While Google has an exclusive deal with Sony, other TV makers, like Sharp, Toshiba and LG, were supposed to come out with their own versions as well.

However, Google has requested that these other companies delay their premiers in order for Google to refine their software, software that has received mediocre reception so far. This request from Google was shocking to many of the other developers and it illustrates some of the struggles Google faces as it works on expanding into the field of consumer electronics.

What many people may not realize is that Google has a bit of a history when it comes to putting out new products and revising them at the last minute. On the other hand, companies in the consumer electronics market place big bets in order to attract holiday buyers and back-to-school shoppers.

Computer makers waited for Google's Chrome OS software this year in order to ship new types of Web-based laptops. However, Google once again had to delay, causing manufacturers to miss out on this holiday season.

A big win for Google does, however, come in the form of the company's Android software. But the same story follows here as phone makers and computer manufacturers have been forced, once again, to push back plans on tablet designs that are based on a refined version of the Android software which put Apple's iPad on top for this holiday season.

Now, it seems like similar problems are hitting the Google TV. While pushing to improve the less than stellar software, Google appears to be facing the technical challenges that have kept the idea of Web TV becoming mainstream head on. Industry analysts say that Google's abrupt change of plans shows a weakness in Google's business culture around managing their relationships with partners.

According to James L. McQuivey, analyst for Forrester, Google as a company is not a particularly partner-friendly or partner-focused company. Because of the delay it may might take another year before Google TV has a chance to catch fire."

Executives at the television makers stated that they were not reacting to abrupt changes from Google. On the other hand, according to people familiar with what was going on, these manufacturers were definitely caught with their pants down. Google spokeswoman Gina Weakley declined to discuss "rumors and speculation" about unannounced products.

According to Ms. Weakley, "Our long-term goal is to collaborate with a broad community of consumer electronics manufacturers to help drive the next-generation TV-watching experience, and we look forward to working with other partners to bring more devices to market in the coming years."

The first Google TVs were shipped back in October, according to the deal with Sony, which saw 24" models starting at $600 and up to $1,400 for a 46". Sony, as well as Logitech, sell complimentary appliances which allow people to tap into Google TV software without replacing their TVs.

The only manufacturer that appears to be an entrant to the Google TV market at CES 2011 is Samsung who will present two appliances which are similar to those from Logitech and Sony. Vizio also plans on demonstrating its version of Google TV, however, they will do it with private demonstrations on the show floor.

It is surprising how much the Google TV products are like computers. They run on Intel's Atom chips and can process software typically found on PCs. The biggest thing Internet TV promises is the ability to watch any show or movie at any time streamed over the web. However, this is a far, far away reality for Google TV.

People can now pay to watch all of their favorite shows and movies whenever they want to using Netflix or Amazon on Google TV and can watch regular TV shows as well. Major networks, however, are not providing programming on Google TV. NBC, CBS, ABC and Hulu have all blocked people from accessing full episodes of shows via their websites on Google TV.

There are some other things that people may find useless about Google TV as well, like watching YouTube videos and showing off pictures of your family trip to the Zoo on a bigger screen. Monitoring while simultaneously watching the game and updating your Facebook may also be a bit much for your average user.

The one thing Google is most famous for is their search engine, a feature which the company promises to incorporate into Google TV. In contrast with the traditional cable and DVR menus that you are used to using, Google TV allows you to search for the name of a show and see exactly when it is being broadcasted and where it is available online. In addition, you can view links to websites about the show and the actors in it.

According to consumer technology reviewers and early customers, Google TV is not ready for prime time. 38% of shoppers on Amazon only gave the Logitech Revue box 3 stars or less. 19% gave it the lowest possible rating of a one star. Many complaints consisted of it being slow and that it did not offer any more programming or features than some of the other less expensive set-top boxes.

The software in Google TV is fairly complex and requires a remote control that includes a mouse and keyboard. However there are also smaller problems like when the windows to watch TV and browse the internet simultaneously cover up crucial commands. These limitations aside, the major TV manufacturers were prepared to join the party with Google TV. Specifically, they hoped to cover up any sizable lead by Sony.

According to Vice President of Toshiba's Digital Products Division Jeff Barney, "We will not be announcing a Toshiba TV or Blu-ray player or demonstrating the products at CES. We have an understanding with Google about the future product roadmap and will bring the right product out at the right time."

A blog posted by Google last week announced software updates to its TV platform allowing it to include better tools for watching movies and TV shows via Netflix as well as a remote control app built for smartphones running Android software. However, the main updates are still yet to come.

According to McQuivey, "Google needs to learn some of those abilities [partnership skills] - both in terms of partnerships with broadcasters and working with hardware partners. You can give me the recipe for the absolute best chocolate chip cookies in the world, but until I put the ingredients together and bake them at exactly the right temperature for the right time, they're not cookies, and that is where Google TV is."

Big things could come from Google TV if they can get everything down pat. Once they get everything working like it is supposed to then this could be one of the biggest advancements in consumer electronics to date. We can only hope people have not lost interest when that time comes around.
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