Google TV and You

This week, Sony and Logitech released the first Google TV devices. Sony’s lineup included TVs with Google TV built in, and Logitech released a set-top box that adds Google TV to your existing setup. After spending the week playing around with it (I bought the Sony set-top box because it has a Blu-ray player in it), I have mixed thoughts about it. One thing is for certain, however: Google TV represents a new platform that is potentially important for e-commerce and Internet marketers.

For those unaware, the Google TV platform is a layer added onto your existing TV and Internet service. It adds a Web interface as well as custom-built applications, à la the iPhone/iPad or Android phones.

The obvious application is for any company that has a lot of video content. Clearly, being on a TV makes this kind of application a no-brainer. Shop-at-home channels (like QVC and HSN) will see the most gains in this area, as a Google TV application will add obvious functionality to their programming. The U.S. severely lags behind other countries when it comes to IPTV and interactive television, so one does not have far to look to discover best practices that have existed for years in this market. Specifically, these home shopping stations can easily enable one-click purchases while someone is watching their live video feed, and enable any number of interactive experiences.

A major plus the platform has over the iPad or other Apple solutions is that it supports Flash. This means that your existing site, videos, and other Flash-based tools work. While that’s a great start, developing a website for the Google TV (we just finished one for a client) means thinking very differently about navigation. Pointing and clicking is a more cumbersome idea on the Google TV, and up/down/left/right navigation is easier and more efficient. This is not how the Web is designed currently.

Designers must also take into account the fact that their audience is probably sitting 10 feet away from the screen, versus the few inches away we sit from our computer monitors. Thus, font size and the amount of information one can show on a screen is very different. Finally, scrolling is a no-no as far as I am concerned. It simply doesn’t fit with the feel of a TV application. Taken together, it should be very clear that designing a website or a standalone application for the Google TV is really its own design project and not simply a port from your existing website.

After playing around with the platform this week, I am cautiously optimistic about it. For sure, it represents a leap forward (for Americans, anyhow) in the IPTV and VOD space. It is the most successful merging of the Internet with television we have seen in this country.

Unfortunately, it is clearly designed by a tech person. I can’t help but wish that Apple had taken its Apple TV in this direction. If it had, we can bet the device would be much more user-friendly and fun to use. Instead, Google TV is a little unintuitive, and is more complicated than it needs to be. I can’t help thinking about how a home shopping application would be amazing on the device, but question how many viewers would figure out how to load it. The barometer for something like that is always my parents, and I am not sure I see my parents using this device. The remotes are small and hard to read (even for me), and the platform is no where near as fun or easy as Apple platforms. We also have an Apple TV, which is why I make the comparison. I truly long for this kind of functionality on that device instead.

However, if Google has its way, more TV manufacturers will be including their platform in their TVs. No one needs another set-top box, so this will truly be the way the platform permeates the mainstream: by simply existing in the TV already. Once that happens, people will be looking for content and applications to use.

Is it another land-rush? Yes and no. It’s not like the iPad land-rush. When that device launched, there was already a built-in user base from day one due to the sheer number of people who bought the device. The Google TV will have a much slower climb, as it doesn’t have the sex appeal of an iPad. Therefore, while there will be a huge installed base once the platform is bundled with TVs, companies are OK with a “wait and see” approach before jumping on the bandwagon. This is tempered even further by the fact that current websites work on this new device, whereas the iPad simply doesn’t play nicely with Flash-based sites. I recommend looking at your analytics and seeing how Google TV devices start trending.

Until next time…


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