The real battle for "TV" is raging. We saw the first major shot this past week with the announcements around Google TV.
Last week I talked about the death of "TV" and the rise of digital broadcast. In that article I was referring to the distribution of video content, but this time around I'll actually focus on the device that sits in your home called the TV. Regardless of where the content comes from, this is the center of your home media experience. The network programming, cable programming, DVR, movies, and all of the expanded computer-based and web content that you view through the TV comprises the centerpiece of the household media experience. This is information to be organized, and it was inevitable that Google would start to dip its toes into this world.
Apple has its Apple TV, but it is really just a streaming media center. Google's first foray is a natural evolution for the company that feels right: it's software for searching, organizing and accessing content from the television device. Logitech, Sony and DISH have all jumped on to integrate Google TV into their technology, but my gut says this is only the first step.
Google TV is still a little confusing to the mainstream media consumer. Mainstream consumers understand the channel guide, but may not see the value in being able to search Web content as well as traditional content from their television. The apps are a "neat" addition to be able to access, but who's really going to play "Bejeweled" on their TV set? No, I think the future of the platform, the most important development, will be when Google TV integrates with TiVo and becomes a cloud-based platform for searching and storing video content to be accessed from anywhere, at any time, on any device.
The "go anywhere" model for mainstream video content has been done with products like Slingbox (among others), but they all still require a relatively savvy user to power them. The mainstream will come when Google TV's platform, hopefully integrated with TiVo (or, unfortunately, one of the other DVR interfaces), becomes the primary interface for all of your home video access. When Comcast and Time Warner realize this is where things are headed and partner with Google to power their set-top box interfaces, then things get really interesting. Just consider the experience you'll have when you turn on your TV and the interface is replaced with Google TV, allowing you to access your stored shows (probably a base supply for free, with additional storage for an annual price), your music files, your photos, any web content and of course the TV guide to see what's on (either locally, nationally, or web-based). That's the future of TV -- if there is one.
But don't count out that other company we already mentioned called Apple. The Apple TV may just be a media center now, but it will never stay that way. I still suspect that in the next five years you'll see Apple come out with an actual flat screen television set that integrates its own OS, while the digital cable box and the web will just plug directly into the back. This will allow Apple to manage all the connections and organize these content sources through its own platform. The difference here, and the one that is representative of both companies, is that Google makes brilliant software while Apple makes brilliant devices as well as software. If we're being honest, Google's devices are smart, but too left of mainstream. They are too techy for too many people and not quite as elegant, but they work! Apple is elegant in design, so a beautiful Apple-developed television would look far more attractive in the home than anything Google creates -- but Google has the tech and the vision to power everyone else's devices. It's Android-esque, since it's becoming clear that Android will eventually power all mobile devices that don't run on the BlackBerry or Apple OS. Why wouldn't the same happen with TV (after all, there are far fewer players to worry about here)?
This feels like the shot that Apple took when it released the video iPod. Convergence in action! It's a fun time to be in media, especially if you're Google.