Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) said its belated Google TV refresh will begin rolling out Oct. 30, bringing with it an upgrade from the current Android 2.1 platform to Android 3.1 Honeycomb, as well as better search and access to applications from the Android Market.
Launched more than a year ago on Logitech Revue set-top boxes and Sony Internet televisions and Blu-ray players, Google TV is the company's Web TV service, which lets consumers mingle TV channel and Web search. The Android-based platform included applications such as Netflix and Amazon Instant Video out-of-the box, as well as Google's Chrome Web browser to access the Web.
The service was severely criticized by reviewers who felt Google TV 1.0 was too difficult for the average user to set up, was too buggy and shipped too soon. Like Apple TV and other comparable services before it, Google TV failed to gain a lot of traction among mainstream consumers, remaining mostly a hobby to die-hard Google fans. Logitech lost a lot of money on the boxes, which were discounted from $299 to $249, and finally to $99.
Google TV 2.0, which the company had promised would be out this past summer, includes changes from the starting point. This includes a new customizable home screen and an "all apps" section where users can access their application shortcuts from the bottom of the screen. It's not unlike the application menu for Android phones and tablets.
The new service has better search for applications such as Netflix, YouTube Leanback and live TV. Moreover, a new TV & Movies application lets users skim through 80,000 movies and TV shows hosted on cable, satellite, Netflix, Amazon, YouTube and other source Websites.
"It's your one-stop shop for finding all of this great content, regardless of whether it's part of your Netflix subscription, the Web or your TV service," a YouTube spokesperson told eWEEK.
Google is also providing users access to applications from the company's Android Market. Google is starting off with hundreds of applications. That includes 50 applications optimized for TV, such as Pandora, Flixster and CNBC. However, applications requiring a touch-screen, GPS or telephony won't be included in the early going.
The bigger story here is that YouTube is going to become an increasingly more crucial component of Google TV. Already the most heavily used application on the service, YouTube has been more closely integrated with Google TV search, which allows users to fashion topics such as clips on cooking or music into a channel.
As YouTube evolves into a professional broadcast platform, Google TV will become the biggest medium for the service. Users will have the opportunity to access YouTube movies, music, games and other content genres through the Chrome browser on Google TVs worldwide.
The YouTube spokesperson said the Honeycomb upgrade will be coming to Sony devices starting Oct. 30, with Logitech Revue boxes getting it soon thereafter. Moreover, Google plans to offer new Google TV devices on new chipsets from multiple hardware partners. Users may also expect to see integration between Google TV and Google+. Think Google+ Hangouts done right on a Google TV-enabled TV equipped with a Webcam.
"The initial version of Google TV wasn't perfect, but launching it gave us the opportunity to learn," noted Mario Queiroz, vice president of product management, and Vincent Dureau, director of engineering for Google TV. "This is still early days, and we know it will take time to get it right-we're in a marathon, not a sprint-and with each update, we take another step forward.
It's true that it is early days for mainstream Web TV; it would behoove Google to get Google TV right. Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) is reportedly working on an overhauled Apple Television that would include a full Web browser and access to iCloud and the App Store.
Moreover, the latest speculation is that Apple's Siri virtual assistant, which is tickling users of the iPhone 4S with its artificially intelligent contextual awareness, is allegedly going to be the focal interface for the TV, obviating the clumsy, cartoonish remote controls for the Logitech Revue and other platforms.