Google TV is months away from launching, but it already has doubters in Apple CEO Steve Jobs and some industry analysts who believe the search engine will fail where Microsoft, Apple, Sony and several startups have failed before.
When asked at the AllThingsDigital D8 conference June 1 about the failure of today’s efforts to marry the Web with TV, Jobs said the fault lay in the go-to-market strategy:
“The television industry fundamentally has a subsidized business model that gives everybody a set top box for free or for $10 a month, and that pretty much squashes any opportunity for innovation because nobody is willing to buy a set-top box.”
“Ask TiVo, ask ReplayTV, ask Roku, ask Vudu, ask us… ask Google in a few months. So all you can do is add a box on to the TV system. You just end up with a table full of remotes, a cluster of boxes, bunch of different UIs and that’s the situation we have today.”
This is both true and false for Google TV, the search engine’s effort to marry channel surfing with Web surfing.
It is true that those who wish to subscribe to Google TV when it becomes available this fall may buy a companion box from Logitech and a special remote to interact with it from Best Buy.
However, Jobs’ implication that acquiring a new set-top box is the only way to use Google TV is false.
Sony pledged at the introduction of Google TV at Google I/O May 21 that consumers will also be able to get Google TV integrated directly in new Sony Internet televisions and Blu-Ray DVD players this fall.
Of course, consumers will still have to buy a new TV set, or a Blu-Ray player, but they don’t have to buy a box as well. That might be mincing words, but it is important to sift out the truth from Jobs’ generalization.
Jobs’ comments could be just misdirection. The Snitch blog noted that Jobs’ proclamation could be a stalling tactic akin to his past comments about not making smartphones, video players or tablets before launching the iPhone, video iPod and iPad tablet.
Indeed, if you watch this D8 clip, Jobs said the set-top box as we know it today must be rebuilt from scratch to account for interactivity between the Web and TV.
Jobs Talks About Tearing Up the Set-top Box
“The only way that’s ever gonna change is if you can really go back to square one and tear up the set-top box and redesign it from scratch with a consistent UI across all of these different functions and get it to the consumer in a way they’re willing to pay for it,” Jobs said. “And right now, there’s no way to do that… The TV is going to lose until there is a viable go-to-market strategy.”
Could Apple be planning to do just this to answer Google’s new foray into television?
There have been rumors that Apple will make its Apple TV “hobbyist” product run iPhone 4.0 operating system and cost $99. That would be something a little out of the box, but certainly not the same thing as rebuilding the set-top box.
Meanwhile, the more analysts look at Google TV, the more skeptical they seem to become.
Altimeter Group’s Michael Gartenberg wrote on Engadget May 30 that Google TV could become the next WebTV, which crashed and burned when Microsoft launched it years ago.
While Jobs said users don’t need another box, Gartenberg noted that Sony already tried and failed selling TV sets integrated with the type of TiVo functionality Google TV aims to provide.
He also dismissed Google’s suggestion that Google TV is different because it lets users access the whole Web, including their Android applications from their TVs. He noted that the consumers don’t want the whole Web and its millions of apps on their TVs.
“Consumers are looking for a different type of connected experience in their living rooms, and it’s one that so far has defied every attempt to merge the TV and PC,” Gartenberg added.
“Google TV just feels like the latest in a long line of niche products more likely to appeal to the enthusiast than to the mass market.”
And that recalls Apple TV, completing the circle.