AH Google IO 2014  (1200 of 5) Android TV 3

Could Android TV be Google’s Television Trump Card?

June 29, 2014 - Written By Phil Bourget

Some may remember four years ago, when Google announced and introduced Google TV, an interface by Google, for your living room.  Those that don’t remember aren’t a minority here, really, and that’s the sad part.  Google sold a few set-top boxes, and a few OEMs manufactured TVs with Google TV inside, but the price, much like the rent of today’s Internet, was ‘too dang high’ and the product was already set to flop and it was only a matter of time.  The interface on Google TV was clunky and not pleasant or easy, and the big one was that it varied from platform to platform, manufacturer to manufacturer, and that made the experience broken if you wanted to change devices.  But now, four years later, we have another attempt to take our living rooms by storm and it looks like it might succeed.

On Wednesday, Google I/O commenced with the annual keynote, announcing all the new developer tools and statistics as well as the new hardware that developers would have access to and be building applications for.  This year we were graced with the Android Wear smartwatch platform, great for checking notifications, Android Auto, an in-car interface that expands your connected Android phone so you have a full Android device, optimized for driving, as well as the sneak peak at Android L, the version which still hasn’t got a name and is expected to be released this fall.  But most interestingly, we got a look at Android TV, an interface built for the TV, not expanded from the tablet or phone, and looking rather nice while sitting on your big screen.

Android TV garnered as much attention as it did, because it is the one piece of I/O hardware and software that hasn’t been touched in a while, or the concept hasn’t at least except for maybe the Chromecast.  Oh yeah, what about that Chromecast?  Is it now defunct?  No, not in the least.  Google said that Android TV can work in tandem with Chromecast.  But how can a developer even begin to add support for cars, watches, Chromecast, Android L, AND Android TV?  According to Google in the keynote, only a few lines of code are needed for their application to be fully compatible with Android TV, and there you go.  The issue of cost is notable as well, in both the failure of Google TV and the likely success of Android TV and continued success of Chromecast.

Chromecast is $35.  Period.  Android TV will be $99 and up, most likely.  Google TV cost anywhere from $50 to $150, and the software made it not worth that price.  Amazon’s Fire TV costs $99.  See the price point?  And for those that want more power and gaming ability (since Android TV is an Android device, optimized for televisions, it has internal specs too), there will be higher prices for higher specifications for around $200, so that’s not bad in the least.  The price and value war is raging, and Google has its soldiers lining up, and looking like they’ll win the majority of people with televisions and a connection to Google’s vast Play Store and ecosystem, so why the worry?

Because people see the opportunity to use Android on the big screen, and it costs $35 for what they want to do, but for another $60 or so, they could get something that is an entirely new and different device.  Why spend more to have another thing to plug into the wall, to update apps and synchronize content to?  Hopefully, Google feels, the value of the system will make the sales, but Chromecast is in no way going to stop now, even though it essentially has a competitor within its own marketplace.  Android TV lets the user control it with their device, tablet or phone (or camera, if you invested in one of those Android-based digital cameras like me), so anyone that comes to visit can just connect to the TV, and be the flixmaster, the king of the home cinema for the day.

Google is pulling a big weight after I/O, with three brand new hardware sectors, but it looks to rule the car in simplicity and intuitive voice interaction, as well as the wrist zone, with the glanceability of the wrist as it is.  The TV and living room is a battleground that has just opened up for more OEMs to fight over, and Android TV, if you have Android devices and Google Play Store content, looks to succeed there too.  But only time can and will tell if Google made the right choices in hardware, connections, interface and pricing.