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Google (Nasdaq: GOOG ) TV is hot these days. In fact, it may be the hottest item for this Christmas season. Google TV has to carry the hopes of the TV industry that placed its bet on the wrong horse this year -- 3D. But Google TV's success is all but certain. If we remember that Web TV has failed, there is the obvious question why Google TV is different and can succeed? The cautious buyers among us may want to wait until Google has flushed the errors out, until programming gets better and until we know how this thing exactly works.
Buying a Google TV is not exactly cheap: $300 for the Logitech Revue box or $1,900 for a Sony 46" TV. Chances are that consumers will ask what they are exactly buying. It is a huge challenge for Google to answer this question since the only products we have had in this market so far were failures (Web TV) or hobby projects (Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL ) TV) that have been clearly rejected by consumers.
What we know so far is that Google TV will be, in the case of the Logitech box, a Web TV-like device with some special services and Google features. Google said that Turner will be tailoring its content from TBS, TNT, CNN, Cartoon Network, and AdultSwim for Google TV. NBC will deliver the CNBC Real-Time application, HBO will offer "hundreds of hours of programming" via HBO Go and the NBA will be rolling out the score tracker NBA Game Time. Amazon's video demand service and Netflix are also part of the deal and websites like the NYT and USA Today, Vevo, Pandora, Napster and Twitter are said to be optimizing their sites for the platform.
Is it enough to spend $300? Maybe price isn't the entire answer.
Whether we like it or not, using the Internet is a highly personal experience and even when we watch Hulu or YouTube, we tend to select content that we like, not others. Watching YouTube together is only partially enjoyable with multiple people in front of the screen. Searching for information is largely a personal experience as well and it is not clear why this service provides an advantage on a TV than on a traditional PC, a tablet, or smartphone.
If Google cannot provide dedicated social experiences such as gaming and very specific high-quality content that cannot be acquired otherwise, Google TV is a wasted effort.
For years we have been told that the interactive TV was coming -- that we can request additional information about actors and scenes while watching a movie. How often have you used such a feature? Probably not too often.
We tend to use the TV as a passive entertainment device. You sit on the sofa, start a movie and that is it. You don't want to use a keyboard on your lap to search for something. There are devices that are much better for Internet usage. Perhaps there is an iPad on your coffee table. Or a smartphone. The "active" usage part of Google TV is the wrong direction and will be a dead end. Gaming may be an exception to this, but I don't want to read my email on a TV screen and I won't do Google searches. At this time, there is very limited benefit of Google TV -- benefit that may not be worth the surcharge.
Is it just me or is it entirely unclear how this thing will integrate with your other gadgets or will it be just another gadget? How does it work with your iPad, with your iPhone, or Android phone? How does it connect to a PS3 or Xbox 360? How will it work together with Chrome OS devices and how will those features look? There are so many open questions that suggest that it is way too early for Google TV to be out in the commercial market. Seriously, we have no idea what this thing will do differently and what benefit we will get over existing services such as cable TV and Netflix. Remember, there are connected TVs also coming up soon as well. How does Google TV compare to those?
The harsh conclusion could be that there are too many questions to place a value on Google TV at this time. It is a classic early adopter technology for those who have spare cash at hand and don't mind losing a few hundred dollars over a technology that may -- we have to be realistic -- fade away if it is not successful.
We are a bit pessimistic here, but we would like to see more before we could recommend a purchase of a Google TV, especially since those devices have stratospheric price tags. For the general consumer, Google TV is an uncertain technology that has little value right now.
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