May 20, 2010

While Apple Slept On Their Hobby, Google Executed

After noting Apple practically being a zero in terms of mentions in yesterday's keynote at Google I/O, today saw the gloves come off as Google came out swinging against its competitor - and it had to be noted, even from this longtime Mac customer - that many of the punches landed, again and again. Most damning? Google actually took TV seriously - instead of teasing customers with a streamlined device, like the Apple TV, which looked great, and functioned well, but was often dismissed as not being a central focus. The result, despite the occasional bumps in the morning's demo, is the latest and most credible offering yet that could unify the worlds of Web and television in one place - on the biggest screen in the house. (See the official Google TV site)

Back in 2007, I had high hopes for the Apple TV. I openly questioned those naysayers on the device, celebrated its small feature updates, such as adding YouTube support, and postulated how it could compete and defeat other businesses, such as Netflix. But it seemed Apple had other ideas for the device - pretty much ignoring it, even as the company saw tremendous focus in other places - first with the iPhone, and now with the iPad.

Yes, the Apple TV still works. Yes, it can still show photos and YouTube and my music and pull down films from iTunes. But it's a siloed dinosaur.

Google made its antiquity especially clear today, as instead of using Apple's divide and conquer mentality, with Apple TV being completely separate from your TV, the company promises to bring the Web to the TV, complete with a search box that finds content, no matter where the source. The reason this has a much better chance to succeed than Apple TV ever could? Commitment. Commitment from the company's leadership, from partners, and to the word they keep smacking us with - openness.

Rishi Chandra, product manager for Google TV, says the company's new offering is about "taking the best of what TV has to offer today and what the Web has to offer today and give a seamless experience", which should result in the ability to find playable content - no matter where it is and bring it to the big screen.

Built following a history of unsuccessful challengers, such as Web TV, Google's massive potential comes from several points - including the immediate leverage of the Android platform, including the application marketplace and command from any Android mobile device, the full-fledged Google Chrome browser, the obvious support of YouTube, and alliances with Adobe for Flash and teaming with leading industry partners like Sony, Logitech, Best Buy and Intel to make the entire ecosystem do its thing.

As an Apple user, and as a TiVo customer, I have grown used to those two companies playing a significant role in my TV entertainment experience. Those two companies are exceptional when it comes to getting user experience right and making things feel smooth. Google hasn't managed to replicate that feeling of seamless integration yet, but their ability to display bookmarks on TV, to download apps from a PC and have them hit the TV, and manage the TV from multiple devices at once all look like they are getting so many features into this thing that there is really no way somebody like Apple can compete, even if they were to buckle down and try for real this time.

Google and its partners promised that the first television sets, set top boxes and input devices will all start hitting shelves by Fall of this year - in time for the holiday shopping season. It will remain to be seen how customers take to a new platform with devices coming from different sources, but it looks like it is Google that is "Thinking Different" about the TV and trying to open it up as a platform for its many developers to leverage - all while Cupertino pretends its Apple TV doesn't exist. As an Apple TV owner, I am disappointed in the lack of attention paid to this product, and think often my loyalty may have been taken for granted. But Google is executing so well in so many areas, it is obvious we have an alternative, one that, if the UI is excellent, could change the game.

Best Buy CEO Bryan Dunn, speaking with Google CEO Eric Schmidt, referred to the new Google TV platform as "not just a new aisle but a new category". Rishi Chandra echoed his comments saying, "Our goal is to have the same impact on the TV experience as the smart phone did with the mobile experience."

The TV looks like it finally may get smart. I just want to know why Cupertino played dumb for so long.