Posted on June 9, 2010 at 5:02 pm by Andrew Arnott

Google TV – pass the remote

google tv

You may have heard about Google’s latest venture in its quest for world domination – Google TV.

If you haven’t, check out Google’s introduction.  It integrates the web and TV programmes on your television using an interface that looks suspiciously like the old Windows Media Centre.

It got me thinking about how home entertainment is going to look in the not-too-distant future.  Are we really going to gather round our all-singing all-dancing televisions to watch TV-on-demand and the best the web has to offer?

Well, Google think we will and they say they’re going to succeed where numerous others have failed because they’re not dumbing down the web (like WAP for example), they’re allowing complete freedom and they’re not making you choose between TV and web (it’s integrated).  Google are presenting a simple logic to it all – you should view the web and TV content on the best viewing platform in the house – your television.

That’s all very well, but there’s a big problem in my view.  It’s easy to imagine sitting in front of your TV and surfing the web, watching shows when you want, listening to music, and whatever else takes your fancy when you’re on your own.  But introduce other people into the equation and the whole thing falls apart.  Have you ever tried surfing the web with someone else?  Even a like-minded friend?  Not recommended unless you thrive on violence.  It’s the same reason you don’t read magazines as a couple or a family.  The result is constant irritation if you’re not in control.  And control is the crucial word.

Families everywhere constantly battle for control of the remote as it is.  Television may offer a multitude of channels, but they are served to you on a plate, so although you have to make choices, the choices are limited.  They’re also relatively easy because unless you have a specific programme in mind (for me this wouldn’t extend much beyond 24, Family Guy and Top Gear, even though I ‘watch’ a fair amount of TV), you choose from what’s there for you at that minute.  TV-on-demand will change this to an extent (when it becomes more prevalent), but you can always count on a form of scheduling due to people’s laziness and promoters building hype around the first runs of new shows.

The other major issue is that television in its present form is fairly passive and even works as a relaxant – switching on is a way of switching off.  During the 5 hours of daily television that an American watches on average, how many of those hours are actually watched avidly?  I’d speculate that it’s between 30 minutes and an hour and a half, because the rest of the time is spent reading a magazine, playing with a mobile, eating, wandering in and out of the room, and occasionally even talking.  And that’s why TV works so well.  An individual, a couple, or even a whole family can vegetate in front of a single TV and not really be that interested.  It’s the same reason I can tolerate (at a push) Top Model or Casualty – I’m there with my family and don’t really have to pay much attention to it.

So the question I ask is how can that possibly be translated to a television that involves more active choices and active involvement, i.e. an integrated TV/web experience?  For me, this is all a bit of a red herring.  Sure, TVs need to get a bit smarter and are going to become more integrated with the web: a backend that can upload movies on demand is already around but will become the norm as DVDs are consigned to history; and a Google interface to search TV programmes and channels will be useful, but that’s about as far as it goes.  We’re not all going to be sat round an all-singing all-dancing TV or even a Microsoft Surface in the near future or ever, because we’re all individuals.  The future lies in building all the functionality and interactivity into our smartphones.  TVs will just need to integrate better with them.

My crystal ball predicts that the TV will remain in a not-too-dissimilar form as today – an aid to relaxation, a window to stare at, or sometimes just background noise – just with more on-demand availability and most importantly, the ability to talk to our mobile devices.  Whether it’s through smartphones or pocket-sized tablet PCs, our individuality dictates that interactive experiences should be delivered to us personally.

Your personal device is where all your choices can be made, all your preferences saved, where your individual behaviour can be predicted by apps and where you consume content that you simply can’t in a group environment.  But where the TV should come into play is that if you do want to share something from your own device or just watch it yourself on a big screen, it should be as simple as waving a remote.

To be fair to Google, the integration of Android devices with Google TV is part of their masterplan (Android smartphones will act as remotes), but these devices need to play a much greater role.  Smartphones are already getting smarter and the iphone has hinted at some of the possibilities, but there’s so much more to come. Your mobile will be your credit card, your Oyster card, maybe your passport, your music player, your video player, your satnav, your phone, your messenger, your games console, your office, and your mini-TV.  And it’s that last point that’s so important – we should be focused on improving web and on-demand TV experiences on mobile devices, not trying to replicate the full interactive experience on our televisions.

So do I think Google TV will fail?  Yes and no.  Yes because you will simply not see the same level of interaction with Google TV that people currently display on the web and in particular on Youtube.  There will be far less interest in interactivity and seeking out content than anticipated.  And no, because it won’t be a complete failure.  Google TV will adapt and the integration with Android devices is a first step in the right direction.  Our obsession with the TV will continue but the future will look not unlike it does already – families sat around their televisions while all individually fiddling with their mobiles.  It may just be that those mobiles, while interacting with the successor to Twitter and closing the curtains, will be putting the next programme on the TV too.

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