Google Tries the TV Market – Again

By Aldo Cugnini

Google_TV_Screenshot-0714Google has announced that it is investing more in their two popular platforms — Android and Chrome — with the goal of making it easier to move content and functions between one’s phone, tablet, laptop, TV, car or bodyware. Two weeks ago, Google welcomed 6,000 developers to their 7th annual Google I/O developer conference. The crowd in San Francisco was joined by millions watching on the livestream and I/O Extended events, in 90+ countries on six continents. With this announcement, the company has reorganized its approach to domination on all screens, including the large one in the living room, only this time, they’ve branded it, “Android TV.

Last summer, Google launched Chromecast, a small dongle that lets users transfer online video, music and other content from the web to the TV. Building on that, Android TV will bring Android apps and games to the big screen, re-purposed for TV, as well as a gamepad. The capabilities could be integrated directly into the TV or set-top box.  Android TV, like Chromecast, supports Google Cast technology. It will ship with products from a range of consumer electronics companies later this year.

But the new initiative reaches into other product segments, too. Android Auto, which could be a re-branded update of what formerly has been called Google Projected Mode, connects an Android phone to a car, providing access to certain phone apps through the car’s native controls. Competing head-on with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto is planned for selected automobile integration later this year, and will support features such as turn-by-turn navigation from Google Maps, curated audio playlists and radio stations through Play Music, voice search, and reminders from Google Now.

With billions of people in the world who still don’t have access to a smartphone, Google has also announced an initiative called Android One, which aims to provide low-cost cell phones and service to third-world communities. Partners plan to launch an initial range of sub-$100 Android One smartphones with affordable data plans starting in India this fall, with more countries to follow.

Google also announced that two Android wearables, the LG G Watch and Samsung Gear Live, are available to order now on Google Play, with the Moto 360 from Motorola becoming available soon.

The new initiatives were timed with an announcement of the next pending Android release. Google launched Android 4.4 KitKat last September, and the next one, currently codenamed “Moonshine,” should come out later this fall. Following in their custom of alphabetically-ordered release names, it’s rumored that the new version, possibly 4.5 or 5.0, will be called “Lollipop.” So far, new features of Moonshine include multi-tasking and a new user interface based on a revamping of the SDK called Material Design.

You’ll recall that Google’s most recent entry into the Smart TV market, Google TV, which was launched in October 2010, and was co-developed by Intel, Sony and Logitech, flopped miserably, largely due to the search giant’s failure to corral enough big-name content partners. This time, however, could be different, because content is immediately available from Netflix, Hulu, Google Play and YouTube.

So far, Google has tapped Sony, Sharp and Philips/TP Vision to join their bandwagon, but the top three smart-TV makers — Samsung, Vizio and LG Electronics, which all have their own operating systems — have not. Nonetheless, it appears that Google’s new mantra has become “Android Everywhere.” With Google extending its reach into so many consumer electronics areas, the transition of branding could be an attempt to downplay the “big-brother” aspect of the search engine giant’s foray into user information gathering. And the connotation brought about by the “open” nature of Android is possibly aimed at giving people a warm and fuzzy feeling that the big G doesn’t necessarily provide.

But Android users have already bemoaned the case that Android is not as open an OS as it once was, now that it is mostly controlled by Google, pointing to certain annoyances that have developed in recent releases; pre-existing apps, for instance, have lost the ability to write to external SD cards, thought by some to be a way of forcing users onto the Google Cloud.

With Google’s deep pockets, they certainly can keep trying this market as long as it takes. Eventually, they may get it right.