While most consumers are focused on what operating system they want on their next smartphone or tablet, fewer pay attention to the OS on one of the most used devices in a household. Americans spend hours in front of a television screen every day, and tech companies like Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL), Google (NASDAQ:GOOGL) (NASDAQ:GOOG), Amazon.com (NASDAQ:AMZN), and Samsung (OTC:SSNLF) are working to provide the best user experience they can for television watchers.
With the Nexus Player, Google is releasing the first device that will run its revamped Android TV operating system. The company hopes to build off the success of the Chromecast, and put its failed Google TV experiment in the rearview mirror. But do Google and the Nexus Player have what it takes to take over your television?
A growing number of options
The choice of adding a set-top box for streaming media used to be simple. You either chose Roku or Apple TV. In the past year or so, a few more competitors have started popping up -- big-name competitors, too.
Notably, Amazon released the Fire TV, which tapped into Amazon Prime and Amazon's digital media store. Now, Google is looking to offer the same setup, but tap into Google's digital media store and its streaming services like YouTube and Google Play Music All Access. It's essentially the same model as Apple (Apple TV is designed to sell more iTunes video downloads), but with a bit more fire power.
Consumers can also opt for a smart TV -- rather, buy a smart TV with an OS they like more than a set-top box because I don't think you can buy a non-smart TV anymore. Samsung is working to create an operating system for its television sets that can convince consumers it's not worth spending the extra $50-$100 for a set-top box.
With over a quarter of the market share for televisions, and the ability to integrate the OS of its televisions with its popular smartphones and tablets, it's building a pretty nice ecosystem. What's more, its new television OS is based on Tizen -- an Android fork that doesn't rely on Google and bypasses Google's OEM requirements.
Standing out from the crowd
With the growing competition, it's increasingly difficult to stand out from the crowd. The biggest thing differentiating the Nexus Player from competitors is that it's the first device to use Android TV. Google announced Android TV in June, and it's open for television OEMs to use. Its most notable feature is its recommendation engine.
But that recommendation feature probably isn't enough to make the Nexus Player stand out from the crowd. Its other notable features like voice search and gaming are also available in Amazon's Fire TV, with processing capabilities on par with Amazon's device (but with half the memory).
Google is also lacking the support of big name apps like HBO Go and Watch ESPN. While that didn't stop Apple for a long time, the company had less competition and a stronger brand to push sales. Amazon is also missing HBO Go from its Fire TV app store.
The Nexus Player doesn't have to be a success
The thing about the Nexus Player, though, is that it's not a disaster if it doesn't take the market by storm. Google's plans with Android TV should be similar to how it turned Android for mobile into a success. It opened up its ecosystem to developers and OEMs. OEMs benefited from a premium operating system, developers benefited from having their apps featured across several devices, and Google quietly benefited from the app store and other services it offered.
The Nexus Player serves as a model to OEMs for what Google expects Android TV to look like. It also provides software developers a concrete example of the hardware they can interact with -- set-top box specs, voice search, game control pads. Building an app ecosystem will be key to doing well for Google. It's what's propelled players like Roku from a no-name to mainstream, and it's what could propel Google into millions of living rooms. The Nexus Player is only a small part of that.