I've been loosely following the evolution of TV since doing some due diligence on Zillion a few years ago. Some developers I know rattled my cage on the subject with their enthusiasm after Google's TV announcement. So I thought that I would do a deeper dive. (This article is about the big screen in front of your couch, not the little ones everwhere filling up your life).
And I'm finding myself underwhelmed. Let's look at how each of these players is disappointing me.
Google TV seems to be taking the tack that people want to be able to do the same things from their TVs that they do from their computers, and I just don’t buy it. Anything that involves typing simply sucks on the TV. Why would I sit in front of the TV to type? I sit in front of the TV to be entertained. Maybe, just maybe I will put up with some nasty complex navigation to get to the content which I then want to consume, but anyone who has used TiVo Search will tell you that it is painful.
Additionally, people have been able to browse and search on their TVs forever. Ever since you could get a VGA connector into your big screen, it has been reasonably simple to connect a computer and use your TV as a huge low-res display. The game consoles, and AppleTV, have had web browsers, and you tube connections in them for years. But most people simply don’t use them. YouTube gets a little more respect on the big screen, but not much.
Ah – but Google says “app developers will find all sorts of new ways to make it compelling for users to interact with their TVs”. Perhaps. But many a platform has died because of a profusion of apps, and lack of a killer one. Isn’t it weird to be pushing the platform before you can really tell us what is compelling about it? Sure, leading adopters (like me) are suckers for new “could do” features, but if we are honest with ourselves, we don’t actually use these after the first blush of buyer’s puppy love has worn off.
For Google TV to be compelling, there has to be something that makes TV watching way way better. The way that iPhone apps made smart phones way way better. The way that DVRs kicked VHS ass. Not a little tweak. Not doing something I can already do elsewhere.
What TV needs is a “do do” interface. And right now, there’s only one company that has cracked that nut: Netflix. The all-you-can-eat selection of mostly legacy mainstream content is very compelling at 8.99 per month. That’s why NFLX is through the roof. Netflix made a huge investment a few years ago to migrate its DVD business to streaming buffered downloads, and that has completely paid off. The hybrid approach of player embedded in the set (or set top device) and queue management THROUGH THE COMPUTER makes best use of the natural interaction modes of the devices. I search, browse and organize using the computer, and then choose the “channel” using the remote. This will only get better.
So Netflix gets big points for version 1.0 of TV 2.0. But, it is old news. They’ve had this tech in the market for two years. What are not in these players are the features that really make sense from the couch, which I’ll cover in my next post. Netflix is really well positioned, and smart, and they will bring along these features, but they aren’t there yet, so I’m impatient.
I’ve been a TiVo booster since day one. I’m on my third TiVo device. I put up with the phone line connection on version 1.0, the requirement for an external usb wifi receiver in version 2.0, and the extremely clunky choice of services in TiVo HD. I’ve been singing the praises of the service for years, and scoffing at mere mortals who actually watch commercials or (gasp) live TV.
But, why did I buy a new TiVo? HD and Netflix. I’ve never upgraded my TiVo service; I’ve never been pulled into deeper investment. I’ve never been sucked into sharing my watching experience with my friends. Though I’ve been a loyal customer for years, they have completely lost my mindshare.
Since I can get HD from any set top box, and DVR is becoming less and less compelling, as more new content simulships online and over broadcast, and Netflix is already everywhere, why would I buy a new TiVo?
TiVo’s answer – because you can browse and search! Doh!
As anyone who reads anything I’ve written recently knows, I’m a total Apple fan. I have an AppleTV – version 1.0 . I actually like it! I like it for its media center capabilities (sorry Microsoft, but that was another total botch), and for on-demand HD rentals of near first run movies. I pay the extra buck or two for HD. I’ll pay for the episodes of shows that aren’t available through Netflix, and that I haven’t recorded.
So now here’s AppleTV 2.0 . Which is compelling to me because… It has better streaming than 1.0 – ok, but I’m happy with 1.0. It has YouTube, so does 1.0. It has Netflix, so do my TiVo and my Wii. It has Flickr, which I don’t use. It is smaller than 1.0! And, it is black, not white. Woo Hoo!
Now I realize that I am one of the seven people that actually bought and likes 1.0 – so I’m not typical. I suspect that, at $99, with the nice integration with other apple devices and iTunes, this will be a real legitimizer of streaming content to the masses. Not a huge hit, but definitely a credible entry. But there is nothing new here.
I know people who spend $100/month on their TV cable alone. I spend $11. Perhaps those people are getting a lot more of a usable experience than I am. Broadcast TV makes about as much sense now as CD based music distribution did 2 years ago. Comcast and other carriers should have been running at breakneck speed to get out in front of the software disrupters like Netflix and Apple that want to sandwich in between the cable companies and their customers. Wasn’t what happened to the record companies enough of an example? Did you really think that video was harder than audio?
So, that’s my rant on the lack of excitement in spite of a year filled with Web TV announcements. The next post will cover my suggestions for where these players (or others) should take the sit back experience to really make it interesting.