Hardware developers seem to have decided that Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich is good enough to build a Smart TV platform around. After all, most ICS tablets are capable of playing 1080p video and many have an HDMI port. There are already games and video streaming services ready to take advantage of big HD screens.
It looks like all that’s left for a true ‘10 foot’ TV experience is a control interface that doesn’t require you to touch the screen.
This is the space Google has built for Google TV, assuming square-eyed couch potatoes will balk at anything except a traditional remote control. But is it big enough to build a niche in the already-busy Smart TV market?
Just about anybody can build an ICS Android device, and with help from Kickstarter funding, lots of people seem to be having a go.
For control, they’re either attaching infrared dongles for a traditional remote, enabling wireless keyboards, mice and gyroscopic WiiMote-style controllers, or allowing users to connect existing games console controllers via USB and Bluetooth.
Few have been so bold as to hand control over to an app running on the user’s phone, even though it’s smack-in-the-head obvious that this is the one piece of hardware they can guarantee their market will own.
Meanwhile, Google TV seems to be corralled into a special reservation where only selected hardware manufacturers like Sony, LG and Logitech are allowed to work on flagship projects.
It’s a strategy that runs contrary to the success of the Android platform, where Google has allowed (almost) everyone and their dog to build phones and tablets. Quality hasn’t always been a watchword, but Android has become the most popular portable OS on the planet and with these numbers, the quality of flagship Android devices has now become staggeringly good.
These numbers also bring software developers, which brings more users, who demand better apps. It’s a very virtuous circle.
So why bother with Google TV? The development process will solve the 10-foot experience problem in innovative, unexpected ways, perhaps even better than whatever top-secret Apple TV solution Steve Jobs allegedly dreamed up.
It’ll be messy, in the rapid, evolutionary way that development on an open platform is always messy, with competing ideas branching off, cross-fertilising and killing each other along the way.
But if there’s a choice of devices from eager, innovating manufacturers, users will come, and tablet apps on TV devices will become dedicated TV apps, and more users will come and better apps. It’s a well-trodden path.
Android can has all your Smart TVs
Here’s my prediction: Google TV is already extinct. An evolutionary branch in the broader tree of Google that, like our Android Neanderthal pictured above, will eventually die out. The same is arguably true of Chrome OS, but that’s a whole separate can of worms.
Android-based TV devices will outnumber Google TV devices, and Google TV will be quietly rolled into a future version of Android (let’s call it Popcorn, in honour of couch potato film fans).
As for other smart TV platforms – not including Apple TV and Xbox/Windows – will Samsung or LG bother chasing app developers when they can integrate an Android solution into their TVs? I wouldn’t.