Bit In The Beta: Google TV/Revue Product Returns Higher Than Sales


You have to wonder whether the TV skunk works at Google have been totally routed by the apparent dismissal of the Google TV project in the general digisphere. When the platform flopped originally late last year, we were promised a robust 2.0 update. Now we may be waiting until fall to see the platform refreshed to accommodate Android apps in a retooled Honeycomb interface. Meanwhile, to add humiliation to the insult and injury of Google TV, Logitech reported yesterday that sales of its Google TV-powered Revue device were actually worse than zero.

In the prepared remarks from Logitech management for the Fiscal Year 2012 results, the company announced a further price reduction for the already-discounted Revue. After an initial $50 cut to $249 earlier this year, Logitech has just gone to the clearance model, $99. "We believe that this action will remove price as a meaningful barrier to broad consumer acceptance," the company said. "We expect the lower price, particularly when combined with the upcoming enhancements to the Google TV platform, including the availability of an apps marketplace, should provide the consumer with a compelling value proposition." Actually, it gets worse. According to Logitech, "Sales of Logitech Revue were slightly negative during the quarter, as returns of the product were higher than the very modest sales."

Logitech claims it is not discontinuing the product, because the units in market can carry the 2.0 update when available. Still, in the company's forward-looking statements it holds out the possibility that the fortunes of its Revue unit could go south if Big G simply decides not to support the platform any longer.

Google was famous, even endearing, for its "beta" releases that stayed beta for years. The notion of iterate, iterate, iterate could work for some products like Gmail, especially if they remained free to users and Google itself was shouldering all the risk. Boundless beta had that wonderfully tentative, always becoming-ness that many early Google fans wanted to associate with the hip upstart. But here is a case where beta is not beautiful. It has a real cost attached to it. Consumers, and partner companies, paid a price for embracing a product that was half-baked, at best, and could be orphaned. Sure, many other product get released into the market with a thud, and everyone attached to the idea takes a bath. But one has to wonder if the Google beta culture, which arguably also helped create a fragmented Android phone market, needs a rethink as the company expands into the world of hard goods.

Google TV's woes are all the more unfortunate because the underlying product is not nearly as bad as some critics would make us think. I have used the platform for months and have come to appreciate its charms. When fully integrated with an MSO (only Dish Network for now) it is miles ahead of my Comcast interface. As much garbage as does come up in a search result, it does get me to "The Daily Show" quicker than a relentless scroll through Comcast's poorly organized morass of SD and HD. The Logitech Harmony universal remote functionality baked into the Logitech Revue unit is enormously helpful, as is the keyboard for searching across apps and Web. And of all the set-top boxes I have tried, the integrated Chrome Web browser is the fastest and most usable on the big TV screen.

Google TV does have a core worth developing. But Google owes it to its early adopters and its partners to telegraph more effectively plans for getting this puppy out of perpetual beta.

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