Mountain View Voice

News - February 10, 2012

Time to dump your TV?

by Angela Hey

Is it time to replace your TV with a computer? Should you drop your cable service and watch Internet video instead? Will games be played mainly on phones? Or should you watch 3D TV?

At this month's Google Technology User Group meeting Paul Saxman, a Google developer advocate, told an audience of over 300 how to write applications for Google TV. Saxman's vision is to see apps running across smart phones, tablets and TVs. For example, he mentioned a poker game where the TV is the table and each person holds cards on his cell phone.

Google's Android operating system and Chrome browser are the basic building blocks of Google TV. Some TVs, from vendors like Sony, have Google TV built into them. You can buy a Logitech Revue box ($99) that comes with a keyboard and turns your TV into a Google TV. It comes with a few built-in apps like Netflix, YouTube, a TV guide, Google's Android Market and a search function. About 50 apps in the Android Market are designed for TVs. Current Google TVs can't use cameras or touch-screens, so apps designed for Android smart phones might not work on them.

The search function is the strongest feature of Google TV. With Internet, cable and movie channels, some users can choose from as many as 600 channels. Then search becomes vital. Otherwise Google TV, which has to be simple, isn't compelling.

Google has plenty of advice for Google TV developers. First, consider hiring a user experience designer. Secondly, get into the market before it becomes too crowded. Thirdly, make layouts simple. Designs need to scale smoothly from small images on a cellphone to large pictures on a TV, so make them scalable. Less is sometimes more: don't clutter the screen; make fonts bold and increase line spacing; use dark backgrounds.

If you want to use your smart phone as a remote for a Google TV, you have to use WiFi and an app, which requires setup and configuration. It's too bad that more smart phones don't embed an infrared port and universal remote software so that they could operate TVs out of the box. Back in the 1990s, I worked at General Magic where we developed a handheld computer with Sony that worked as a universal TV remote.

According to Nielsen's 2011 Cross-Platform Report, the average viewer spends almost five hours a day watching TV, with people ages 25-34 spending the most time watching video on the Internet — about an hour a day. In many homes there are more TVs than people. TVs are in shops, bars, hotels, garages. Therefore, Google sees a tremendous opportunity to bring its search and advertising technology to TV.

Innovative TV apps will afford massive advertising opportunities. Facebook is dragging people away from the TV to watch entertainment and play games on tablets and phones. Enriched by its IPO, Facebook will innovate rapidly to keep its audience. Apple can integrate phones, tablets and TVs more smoothly than any other vendor.

Now's the time to review your TV and video watching habits. Now's the time to write TV apps.

Angela Hey can be contacted at amhey@techviser.com and followed on Twitter at amhey.

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