Google has revived its stuttering effort to conquer the living room with a new version of Google TV, the service that mixes the web with television.
A redesigned interface, an improved look for services such as YouTube, better ways of finding TV and movie content and the opening up of the Android Market to deliver TV-compatible applications are the main improvements announced by Google on Friday.
Google TV received a poor reception when it was first launched a year ago in the U.S., being criticized for its complexity and for a lack of compelling content. Poor sales forced Logitech – one of its main backers along with Sony – to slash the price of its Revue set-top box featuring the technology to $100 in the summer, from an original $300.
“The initial version of Google TV wasn’t perfect, but launching it gave us the opportunity to learn,” said Mario Queiroz, head of Google TV, in a blog post on Friday.
“These are still early days and we know it will take time to get it right – we’re in a marathon, not a sprint.”
The simpler interface being introduced is one of the lessons learnt, but there are no changes being announced for Sony and Logitech’s hardware, which featured complex remotes and wireless keyboards.
TV makers Vizio and Samsung also announced support for the service in January but have yet to release their versions. They appear to have been waiting for Version 2, which was delayed from an intended summer release and runs on a newer version of the Android operating system designed for tablets, codenamed Honeycomb.
Google said it would start pushing out the update to Sony devices on Sunday evening and to Logitech ones shortly afterwards.
Google TV lost another partner this month when Intel dissolved its Digital Home group and said it would stop focusing on producing microprocessors for Internet TVs.
Mr. Queiroz said this would not affect the service. Google had been working with other chipmakers for several months on chipsets that would feature in products from new manufacturers in 2012, including launches in markets outside the US, he told the Financial Times.
“We are very confident in our partnerships – we don’t see a lack of demand for the platform, consumer electronics manufacturers are looking for a powerful operating system and platform that allows them to makes their devices smart so the web can come to the living room,” he said.
However, consumers already have plenty of options for receiving internet content through the television, from attached games consoles to set-top boxes such as Apple TV, while analysts say TV makers such as Sony and Samsung also want to continue to offer their own services.
“It would be an efficient outcome for consumers if we standardize on a single operating system [like Google TV] quickly, but it’s unlikely that’s going to happen because there are no partners in that ecosystem that want to cede that territory right away,” says James McQuivey, Forrester Research media and technology analyst.
He suggests one bold move would be for Google to sell to operators set-top boxes made by Motorola Mobility, the company it is buying for $12.5-billion, at a considerable discount, provided they accept Google TV bundled with the box.
However, while the service features the Netflix movie streaming service and Amazon Instant Video, it is not yet announcing the kind of new content deals that would enable it to catch up with the offerings of rivals.
Its advantage may prove to be Android apps. Google TV allows regular web browsing through an Internet connection, but users are expected to prefer the kind of apps they have become familiar with on smart phones and tablets, now that the Android Market is open.
Google has been working with around 50 partners on TV-optimized apps for the new version, including CNN Money, Fox Business and IMDB, the movie database.
Another 1,800 existing apps that do not need features such as telephony are also expected to show up on the Market over the next few days.