Putting the idiot back in the idiot box. That, in a nutshell, is Google’s sixth attempt at a television strategy.
Its new name is Android TV and its guiding principle is this: “When your butt hits the sofa you lose 20 IQ points,” said Matias Duarte, designer of Android TV.
Keeping it simple should have been second nature for a company which has created an empire from a website that consists of a single search bar.
But that has not been the case. Google’s attempts to bring the world of Internet-delivered entertainment to the dominant screen in the home has repelled consumers, who stayed away in droves due to its complexity and media companies that complained it facilitated the watching of pirated video on TV screen browsers.
Its latest iteration, Android TV, which will be available as a set top box from LG, Asus and Razer, and built into future models of Sony and Sharp TVs, comes closer to achieving simplicity than in any of the last five attempts. It has stripped the nerdy complexity out of the latest version. Gone is the Chrome web browser, keyboard and awkward navigation that doomed its 2010 predecessor, Google TV.
“People love TV … It really is simple. Browsing is effortless. It’s channel up and channel down,” designer Leo Baghdassarian told developers in one presentation at this week’s Google I/O developers conference. “When we thought about bringing Android to TV, we thought about that.”
Indeed, Android TV employs a slicker, more tablet-like interface that appears easier to navigate. It uses image tiles to represent the live TV programming lineup. Choosing what to watch is as simple as moving from left to right or up and down. That’s a dramatic improvement over the endless grid of channels familiar to most TV viewers.
Android TV displays two rows of music and video apps, such as Netflix, PBS Kids or Google Play’s digital media store. Access to the Google Play store also expands the variety of content available to Android TV users.
Games, which make its debut on a Google television device, will also get prominent display — with apps arrayed in two rows along the bottom of the screen. Though any mobile games would have to be adapted for Android TV’s navigation.
Google sees an opportunity to bring order to the chaotic world of smartTVs — whose interfaces vary by manufacturer, which requires developers to create one-off applications for each model of Internet-connected device. But Google’s unspoken goal may be to scoop up valuable data about home viewing habits — information it could potentially turn into a fresh source of advertising revenue.
Even in its latest incarnation, refined though it may be, Google faces an uphill battle in its quest for the living room.
Android TV enters a crowded marketplace, in which it faces incumbents from the likes of smartTV makers, dedicated video streaming devices such as the Amazon Fire, Roku Streaming Player and Apple TV, and video game consoles that do double duty as entertainment devices in the home.
Clearly, Google is determined to get this right. If at first you don’t succeed, try, try, try, try try, try again.