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Google TV mimics Android's closed openness

The user comes first. If you ignore the $300 price tag

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With Google TV, Eric Schmidt and company hope to give web television the Android treatment. In other words, they plan on expanding their online ad empire by offering hardware manufacturers a free software platform that's kinda open source.

Logitech unveiled the first Google TV settop – the Logitech Revue – this afternoon at a press event in San Francisco, and Google TV product lead Rishi Chandra showed up to deflect any questions about the future of the platform. But amidst the deflections, he did confirm with The Reg that Google TV's open source model will mirror Android's – i.e. Google will develop new versions of the platform behind closed doors before releasing the code to world+dog.

"We want to develop – we want to push the innovation. And once we have the innovation there, we can share it," Chandra told us. Google TV is a settop box platform based on the existing Android mobile OS and Google's Chrome desktop browser. The idea is to meld the web with your television, offering a single interface for organizing, searching, and viewing broadcast TV as well as stuff from your PCs and smartphones and services across the net.

The inaugural version of the platform is still closed, and will remain closed for at least another eight months. Today, Chandra reiterated that it won't be open sourced until "the summer of 2011." As the company said at its annual developer conference this past May, Google TV will wind up on both the Android and the Chromium code trees. Asked to explain the specifics of how this will work, Chandra demurred. "We'll share more once we roll this out," he said.

He gave much the same response when asked about the Google TV SDK and the company's plans to offer a version of the Android app market for the platform. Chandra reiterated that the app market will arrive sometime "early next year," and he declined to specify when the SDK would be available or describe the scope of the apps the market will offer. "It's a little early to answer the Android market questions," he told reporters. "Our intention is for the all the applications that don't require phone-specific hardware to work directly Google TV."

It's unclear what sort of hardware and software access the SDK will offer.

Whatever the particulars the open source project and the app store, Google's ultimate aim is to serve you ads. As far back as the summer of 2007, when Google launched its first TV ads program, the company boasted that it could the save traditional TV business from the threat of DVRs and an increasingly fragmented audience. "A lot of the recipes and lessons that work on the web can actually apply to TV," Google head of TV technology Vincent Dureau told a conference that summer.

"You can actually make more money, because you can increase the relevancy of your ads," he said. "You can cut down on the number of ads - and still reach more people. At the end of the day, you're changing the attitude of the consumer. They've reached a point where they expect the ad to be relevant and they're more likely to watch it."

As it stands, Google TV only shows ads that would ordinary turn up on webpages and television broadcasts. "The platform has no advertising other than what you get on the web today or on TV today," Chandra told reporters this afternoon. And when asked if Google had a revenue sharing arrangement with hardware partners like Logitech, he said "no."

But it only stands to reason that Google will eventually serve ads on the platform itself. According to a report from The New York Post, such ads will appear in about twelve months, but Chandra wouldn't confirm the claim. "I have no comment on that," he said. "All these platforms [the web and broadcast television] already have ads and already have content. Right now, we're really focused on the user."

Chandra also declined to specify what user data it intends to collect as it strives to "increase the relevancy" of its ads. He said that this will be divulged when "the platform is available." The Logitech Revue is due to hit stores in two to three weeks. "We'll have a privacy policy that shows what we're collecting," he said. "I would say nothing more than what Android is doing today. We're based on the Android platform."

He then said – yet again – that at the moment, Google's primary goal is to "get the user experience right and make sure the users are there." It sounds like a throwaway claim. But it's actually born out by the (sketchy) timeline Google has laid out for the platform. Android was open sourced when the first Android handset hit the market, and a preview version of the Android SDK arrived before that first handset. But with Google TV, at all will come later. It does seem that after Android's rocky start, Google wants to lay a firmer foundation in TV land.

Once that foundation is laid, it can start serving ads on the platform itself. "There may be [ad] opportunities in the future," Chandra said.

We would also add that the inaugural Google TV settop box is $300. That's a tough sell even if you aren't serving ads. ®

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