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Google TV: The Next Big Thing

July 2010

My friend Raul said, “Jim, I want to watch the Internet on TV. What should I do? Should I buy an external monitor and watch TV on that, or should I buy an HD TV and connect it to my computer?”

My answer: buy both. That’s what I’d do. Just kidding. But Raul makes an interesting point: there’s a lot of video content available on the web now, but the device best suited for watching video — a big, gorgeous, HD TV — doesn’t easily interface with the web. My friend Andy has a PC in his living room just for this purpose, but that seems a bit like a kludge.

At least that’s what Google thinks. Of course, because Google makes gazillions selling web advertising, their goal is to put all the web in front of you all the time.

Witness their fantastically successful smartphone software called Android. They wanted every phone user to have convenient access to the web, so they developed this software for smartphones and then made it free to manufacturers. And now Android phones, such as the Droid, are the hottest-selling phones, even outpacing the iPhone.

In this same way, Google is planning to marry the web with TV via a new offering called Google TV coming this fall. Sony will be selling a Google TV, and Logitech will be selling a set-top box. More are expected to jump aboard.

The goal of Google and its partners is to do one thing: make it easy. TV has been an amazingly successful technology, with some 4 billion TV users worldwide. You like TV because it’s easy and reliable. You turn it on, flip the channels, and watch your favorite programs.

Google TV will be like that, they promise. You won’t have to think about it. You’ll connect the Internet to your TV and use your remote to interact with your TV using they very simple Google TV interface. It’ll be as simple as TV but the whole Internet will be available as well as your regular cable channels.

Now here’s the cool part. Google TV will run Android and will use Google’s Chrome browser. Why are the iPhone and Android so successful? In part, because they’re not like computers. They’re easy to use. There’s an app for almost everything. That’s what makes these phones fun, and now all of the apps developed for the Android platform will also run on your TV.

Suppose, for example, that you use the Pandora streaming music website. It’s hugely popular because, as we discussed in an earlier column, it lets you create “stations” that stream only your favorite music. And creating a station is as simple as typing in your favorite song. Pandora then uses that song to identify similar music and play it.

Of course there’s a Pandora app for Android phones (and thousands of other highly useful apps). Now the Pandora app and others will work on your TV. You’ll be able to stream your favorite music over the sound system connected to your TV.

Plus, it’s increasingly looking like Android will become a common platform across consumer devices. That means that whether you’re using your phone or TV, the interface will be the same — and familiar.

Even cooler is that once TVs have fairly powerful software like Android, developers will be able to write applications specifically for them — apps that integrate with the web.

Here’s an example. An engineer working on Google TV had moved to the U.S. with a spouse who knew no English. She wanted to watch TV but didn’t understand a thing. So he took the closed captioning feature available on TVs and integrated it with the powerful Google Translate service on the web. Presto, you’ll now have closed captions in any of 57 languages.

There have already been some offerings on the market that give you the web on TV, and in fact a quarter of all TVs sold nowadays are actually capable of being connected to the Internet. But the offerings so far haven’t been very popular because they dumbed down the web or were a closed system, like Apple TV, or they had a switching box that made you choose whether you were going to use your TV with cable or with the web.

Not Google TV. They promise seamless integration with traditional TV programming and the web. One minute you can be watching NBC Nightly News on your TV and the next minute streaming movies from your Netflix account or the Hulu website.

Google promises that you’ll spend less time finding and more time watching. Bring it on!

This month’s hot tips:

Check out Kim Komando’s great article on free TV programming and video available online.

© 2010 by Jim Karpen, Ph.D.

E-mail Jim Karpen