The worst-kept secret in tech is about to be exposed. Yesterday, blogger TechCrunch confirmed that Google (Nasdaq: GOOG ) is set to announce some sort of TV service today. Earlier reports say that the service, now apparently called Smart TV, is to be the result of a partnership involving Sony (NYSE: SNE ) , Intel (Nasdaq: INTC ) , and Logitech (Nasdaq: LOGI ) . Additional partners should follow.
History says that Google will rely on help. Consider Android, the smartphone operating system that was aided by an open-source coding cabal and achieved popularity through HTC's and Motorola's (NYSE: MOT ) hardware designs. Moto's Droid has been like yeast for Google's dough, giving rise to earnings that were flat not long ago.
What it's like to be smart
Whether Google TV will drive earnings for Big G is less clear, but the parallels make sense. Press reports say that Smart TV, like Android, will be a software platform.
Los Angeles Times reporters Jessica Guynn and Dawn Chmielewski cite sources who say that Smart TV software will be incorporated into Web-connected TVs, Blu-ray players, and set-top boxes and allow consumers to flip back and forth between Web content and other programming. They also say that Google will release tools for coders to enhance Smart TV, just as developers have added to Android with some 50,000 apps.
Contrast that with what Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL ) is doing -- or, more appropriately, not doing -- with hobby project Apple TV. The Mac maker's set-top box primarily delivers iTunes content, though it can also be used for showing photos and playing music.
Smart TV may also be separate, acting more as an add-on than as an enhancement. But I'd be surprised if this were the case. Google CEO Eric Schmidt has long criticized the tube for being dumb. Why name your product Smart TV if you don't actually intend on making TV smarter? I'm talking about innovations such as:
Enhanced search. You know what I'm talking about if you have cable or satellite TV. Try searching for your favorite shows. It takes time, doesn't it? The interface stinks unless you're using TiVo (Nasdaq: TIVO ) , and the results you get back are ... well, let's just say "not impressive." And what about related shows? TiVo provides recommendations, but other services mostly fail in this category. Were Google to bring its search algorithm to the tube, it could reveal all sorts of related and sponsored content. Your TV guide becomes a Web-like index.
Better content. We've talked for years about the advantages of mixing the Web with live TV. The promise is a more interactive, engaging medium that combines content with context. Sports leagues are ahead of most in this area. For example, I can watch live baseball on MLB.tv online and get stats alongside video. Why isn't more programming like this? I'm not the only one asking; Schmidt has been wondering the same thing for at least a year now.
The Web as TV channel. A Web-connected set-top box should be more like a hotel's TV menu. For hotels, there are live channels and premium channels. A remote provides tools to navigate both. Similarly, Smart TV should give me live channels and Web channels, and not just YouTube. I'd have connections to Hulu, Netflix's Watch Instantly service, movie-downloading services -- the works. Think of it like TiVo, with the difference being that Smart TV would also help me find TV on the Web, wherever and whatever the content might be. (Google is a search business, after all.)
Better ads. We've talked about this, too, so let's keep it to the obvious. The more content Google delivers through its TV platform, the more context it sees, and the better the ads. Better ads equals more revenue, and hundreds of billions of dollars are spent on TV ads annually.
However, taking this one step further, TV shouldn't assume that just because I'm tuned into the Oxygen channel for The Negotiator -- a solid action movie starring Kevin Spacey and Samuel L. Jackson -- that I'm interested in romantic getaways or feminine products. Trouble is, TV can't assume anything else when there's no further context. Oxygen is a women's channel; ergo, ads are more likely to be aimed at women.
Google would be right to call its offering Smart TV; the tube can and should get smarter. Let's just hope the software lives up to the name.
What do you want from Smart TV? Discuss in the comments box below.