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The War for Your Living Room Continues: Can Android TV Supersede Set-Top Boxes?

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If at first you don't succeed, try, try again.

Google (NASDAQ: GOOG  ) (NASDAQ: GOOGL  ) is taking that lesson to heart, as the company is reportedly working on Android TV -- a reworking of its Google TV platform. The Verge got its hands on several documents outlining the direction Google intends to take its recently renamed television segment.

This leak comes just days after (NASDAQ: AMZN  ) revealed its Fire TV, which will compete directly against Google's Chromecast and Apple's (NASDAQ: AAPL  ) hockey puck. Google may be trying to supersede the competition in this battle for your living room by integrating its software directly with OEM's hardware.

Like Fire TV, but built-in
Part of the attractiveness of Google's Chromecast dongle is its minimalist design. There are no obtrusive wires, no box to find a spot for in your entertainment center, and no remote. A built-in Android OS would achieve a similar effect.

But Google has big plans for the future of Android TV. Namely, many of the same plans as Amazon had with Fire TV. Google plans to include voice search -- something Amazon is heavily touting with its first round of advertising for Fire TV. It plans to improve the user interface to put apps and shows right next to each other -- another Fire TV move. It also plans to try to predict what a user wants to watch, making it easier to access and load content a la Fire TV's ASAP feature.

Apple is rumored to add similar features to the next iteration of Apple TV.

Unlike Apple or Amazon, however, Google will work with third-party OEMs to proliferate its software. It could even license Android TV for free like it does with its smartphone and tablet OS, which means it could be a consumer's least-expensive option.

Google's biggest potential roadblock
The biggest problem Google faces is convincing OEMs that they need Android TV. Samsung and LG are the two largest television OEMs and each develop their own operating systems. Samsung has Tizen, while LG bought Palm's WebOS from Hewlett-Packard last year. Both companies have plans to bring their own OSes to television sets this year.

Indeed, the smart TV market has become extremely fragmented, with just about every manufacturer offering a different interface for accessing apps. Moreover, they're all mediocre interfaces at best. This explains the success of products like Apple TV and Chromecast. There's very little indication that the market wants a standard smart TV OS.

Still, there may be a smaller competitor that looks to Google to differentiate itself and use its brand to drive marketing and sales.

Not built-in Chromecast
Google has had quite a success with Chromecast. The user-interface, where users can "cast" things to their television set from their laptop or mobile device, is clever and simple. Android TV, however, appears to abandon Chromecast features.

Instead, Google has supposedly reached out to companies to develop stand-alone apps for Android TV. In other words, it's asking developers to split their time between two Google platforms.

Meanwhile, Apple is only slowly adding new apps to Apple TV, but may open up the app store to developers with the next iteration. If Apple decides to include its A7 chip in the next Apple TV, it should make porting iPad apps to Apple TV relatively easy.

Amazon has garnered support from numerous developers for Fire TV, but is still missing a few key apps.

If Google can't attract the necessary third-party developers to support Android TV, it may leave manufacturers and consumers asking themselves if they really need it, especially with the after-market options available. Additionally, it could detract from Chromecast's development, hurting Google's other television product.

Boom or bust
With a step up in competition from Amazon, and with Apple expected to release a new Apple TV this year, Google is fighting to keep the momentum it created last year with Chromecast. It's curious, however, that the company isn't extending Chromecast features to Android TV, perhaps in an effort to differentiate the products and improve sales.

Unfortunately, that strategy may come back to bite it, meaning the product could be a boom or a bust. Google, however, has the cash and resources to take the risk.

Google will be heavily reliant on second and third parties to help develop Android TV. Comparatively, Apple's rumored iTV would be a closed ecosystem, which may allow it to launch the product more easily, but doesn't necessarily point to a greater chance for success.

For now, set-top boxes and streaming sticks seem much more attractive as a means to get different software onto a television set.

The $2.2 trillion war for your living room begins now, here's how to profit!
You know cable's going away. But do you know how to profit? There's $2.2 trillion out there to be had. Currently, cable grabs a big piece of it. That won't last. And when cable falters, three companies are poised to benefit. Click here for their names. Hint: They're not Netflix, Google, and Apple. 


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Adam Levy

Adam has been writing for The Motley Fool since 2012 covering consumer goods and technology companies. He spends about as much time thinking about Facebook and Twitter's businesses as he does using their products. For some lighthearted stock commentary and occasional St. Louis Cardinal mania

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