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Google TV 2.0 is all bling and no kerching

Sill picking up pieces from hype bubble burst

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It is easy to be rude about Google TV, but at the back of the mind is the feeling that one day, after successful tinkering, Google may get it right. Yet after initial hype and excitement around the launch, Google has struggled to recover from the dead weight of unfulfilled expectations that followed, and it will take something more than the recent revamping including an improved user interface to regain any sort of momentum.

It is little surprise that Google's actual announcement was overshadowed by the vapourware of speculation around Apple's impending TV launch expected sometime next year. That has been pitched as Steve Jobs' final legacy since he is said to have claimed to have solved the riddle of the connected TV shortly before he died. This is exactly what Google has also been trying and, so far, has failed to do.

Indeed part of the re-launch dubbed Google TV 2.0 is a plan, as yet undated, to launch around 100 new video channels on YouTube designed more for the big screen. These will be fed with supposedly original content from media outlets, and celebrities such as Madonna and Jay-Z.

But while YouTube can provide in effect a ring-fenced section containing content of high technical quality, the announced plans highlight the continuing dilemma for Google TV. That is how to attract truly premium content, and to persuade all the players of the ecosystem – notably smart TV makers – that it is worth participating in the venture.

So far Sony makes Google TVs, while Logitech makes set-top boxes that enable existing TVs to connect to the service. Neither have been selling like hot buns, but it could be that ironically Intel has done Google a favour by pulling out of the smart TV market. Intel had been one of the key Google TV partners, alongside Sony and Logitech, and pulled out at least partly because the service had failed to generate sales of chips. Now Google is no longer shackled to the Intel chipset and may be better placed to replicate on TVs the success Android has already enjoyed on smartphones with implementations on a variety of chipsets.

Indeed Google started pulling smartphones towards its TV service under Android in June 2011 by acquiring Sage TV, a Californian maker of a DVR with Slingbox-style placeshifting. The plan was to integrate this into Google TV so that broadcast content could be accessed remotely on Android devices. In this way Google hopes even to stump up some deals with a TV bundled in. Some mobile operators are already giving away smart TVs with contracts.

There are hints of this in Google TV 2.0, which alongside simplified navigation includes a customised home screen via an Android app. There is also a new TV & Movies app allowing users to browse a library of around 80,000 movies and TV shows from Amazon as well as of course YouTube itself.

Google also announced that the market for TV apps will be opened up to developers via the Android Market, so that existing mobile apps will start being ported across to the TV.

While none of these announcements will lift Google TV's immediate fortunes, they do signify that Google still has its eye on the box.

Copyright © 2011, Faultline

Faultline is published by Rethink Research, a London-based publishing and consulting firm. This weekly newsletter is an assessment of the impact of the week's events in the world of digital media. Faultline is where media meets technology. Subscription details here.

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