Google’s Elusive Last Screen

Google has been trying to get on our TVs for some time now. They’ve already had a few attempts, as have a number of their Android partners. They’ve put rather slow, basic hardware in stylish, relatively benign boxes and some pretty weird ones. So far, none have had much grip. Now, Google’s been rumoured to be having another go at it and it might look slightly like a game system.

The over-arching plan is to bring Android to televisions. It’s the last screen that Google really doesn’t have any grip on. The market is huge and, as they are really an ad-revenue machine, it looks pretty lucrative. While it’s a great idea strategically, tactically, the plan hasn’t stuck yet.

What’s the stumbling block? It’s certainly not price, they have some of the cheapest devices out there. They also have the budget behind them and a name they can trade on. Obviously Google has command over the experience and a solid integration with the rest of the Android universe. How is this not happening then?

The thing that’s really holding them back is that they’re missing the ‘killer app’ that people can’t live without. Sure, watching YouTube videos on the big screen is fun and the prospect of looking at websites on your TV would be cool, but in practicality there are a lot of other devices that do both better. These are the same devices we go to first for such things.

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Why get Google TV, when products like the Xbox can do so much more, and do it more efficiently?

That’s the rub for Google. Currently, they’re not bringing anything critical to a user that can’t already be found in most other set top boxes, Blu-Ray players or gaming systems. Sure, it may be cheaper and it might just be easier on the apps, but what’s the draw to buy this over a long HDMI cable for my Nexus 7?

The lack of differentiation naturally begs the question as to whether Google should have started a movie service rather than a music service. Streaming paid video content still hasn’t been sorted out yet, whereas audio certainly has some well-rooted leaders. It should have been evident that prying out a lead in a well-established market would not be the easiest thing to do, but using your leadership with YouTube should have made it easier to dent into video. It would have also helped out the set-top box portion of the company at the same time.

This is where Microsoft shines. The Xbox already has a legitimate reason for being connected to your TV. Someone already needs the system to perform other entertainment operations on their TV, so using it to stream Netflix through it seems like a bonus, and it’s somewhat easy to do with all the integration Microsoft has slipped in.

So how does Google carve out their own slice of the TV market? They really need to stop working on packaging devices in weird ways and come up with something that people cannot live without. The game system’s going to be a hard sell, as it will be going up against some firmly entrenched competitors, just like Google Play in the streaming music market. If they were smart, they’d look at how people use all of these technologies together and provide a solution along those lines. It’s unclear to me if they will. This might just be the thing that an independent company figures out for them. Regardless, if they can capture that thing that everyone doesn’t know they need for interactive TV, then they’ll have a fighting chance in the living rooms of our future.

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