Apr 8 2014, 6:44am CDT | by Forbes
Welcome to the mess Google is about to create. Having seemingly found the future of television leaks to The Verge suggest Google is about to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory by clubbing it over the head with a relic from the past. Worse still it is something Google has already tried and it failed abysmally.
If the leaks are to be believed this abomination will be called ‘Android TV’. It is a set top box powered by Android that comes with a remote control, plugs into your TV and provides access to Google services like YouTube, Play Music, Play Movies and Search as well as inviting developers to create apps for its ‘simple and intuitive’ user interface.
Under no circumstances should Android TV be confused with ‘Google TV’, the company’s previous failed set top box. Google TV was powered by Android, came with a remote control, plugged into your TV, provided access to Google services and Search and invited developers to create apps for its simple and intuitive user interface. Nor should Android TV be confused with existing set top boxes like Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, WD TV, Popcorn Hour TV and others.
Sarcasm aside, under normal circumstances Google’s ‘if at first you don’t succeed’ approach would be admirable or at the very least show persistence. The thing is these are not normal circumstances.
The company had moved on from the Google TV debacle and come up with Chromecast. For those not in the know, Chromecast is a $35 HDMI dongle which plugs into your TV and removes the need for both a set top box and yet another remote control for your coffee table. With Chromecast whatever you are watching or listening to on your phone or tablet can be sent to your TV and then controlled by your phone or tablet. Leave the house and the content picks up on your device where you left off.
No new apps need to be coded for Chromecast because support can be added into the lorry load of Android media apps already available. You don’t even need an Android device since Chromecast is compatible with iPhones and iPads and Windows support is said to be in the pipeline.
“We are in the millions now, and it’s growing very actively,” said Sundar Pichai, Google SVP of Android and Chrome, when addressing Chromecast sales in early March. Chromecast was a US-only product at the time, but has now launched internationally. Neflix, Hulu, HBO, Pandora, Rdio, YouTube, BBC iPlayer, Plex and VEVO head a rush of popular apps which have added Chromecast compatibility. Even rivals seem convinced by the concept and set top box veteran Roku released its knock-off ‘Streaming Stick’ (below) within a few months of Chromecast’s US release.
And now there is Android TV. Here to repeat the failed Google TV model, split the time and resources of developers committed to Chromecast, confuse consumers and create negative headlines for a product Google was getting right. A typical example is Atlanta Black Star’s Is Google Ditching Chromecast For Android TV? Meanwhile publications run ‘versus’ pieces discussing which Google product you should buy.
Self-sabotage is the most idiotic kind of sabotage and, given Chromecast’s enormous first mover advantage, rivals must think all their Christmases have come at once.
Of course there is a counterpoint to all this: Amazon. Held up as a poster boy for intelligent product expansion, Amazon just announced Fire TV which not only mimics Android TV and the failed Google TV, but is also based on Android. Given Amazon is famous for building products based on the wants and desires expressed by its millions of customers it is reasonable to suggest Google TV simply came too early and both Amazon and Google are getting back in the water at the right time.
But no. As an online retailer Amazon is a very different animal to Google. Like its Fire tablets, the Fire TV is simply a delivery mechanism for purchasing Amazon content. It has partnered with Netflix, Hulu, ESPN and others but ultimately it is about Amazon’s wares being front and centre. Secondly whereas Google can drive Chromecast support through the core of Android, Amazon can only bolt it onto the forked version it ships with Fire products. Fire TV is a set top box because it was the next best option, Amazon can’t copy Chromecast well.
Neither could rivals. The major TV makers – Sony, LG and Samsung – are beholden to Android through phone and tablet contracts while Microsoft plays catch up from a long way back. Meanwhile Apple doesn’t usually let one product line cannibalise another, so while morphing Apple TV into a cheap AirPlay dongle to combat Chromecast is possible (and even sensible) losing a $99 product for one $50 or less when users are trapped within its ecosystem isn’t usually its style.
Yes all the pieces looked to be in place for Chromecast’s long term victory. But should Google go ahead with Android TV it will split developers, confuse customers and both it and Chromecast will fail. Albert Einstein defined insanity as ‘doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results’. By this logic Android TV suggests Google is truly mad.
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