Google TV and Apple TV are Very Different Approaches to Computing in the Living Room

Jul 05, 2010

Google Apple

With the recent announcement of Google TV and the rumors that Apple is seriously working on a new version of Apple TV, I did a little thinking about where Google and Apple are thinking strategically here.

Apple TV

Apple's current Apple TV offering has been fairly underwhelming, and has sold that way: CEO Steve Jobs was quoted in early 2009 noting that the industry and Apple TV are essentially "a hobby". The product is a small PC-like box, running a modified version of Apple's OSX Front-Row) product, allows users to purchase downloadable TV shows at $2.99 in HD ($1.99 for non) and rent movies for $3.99 in HD, and it will play back your movies stored on your hard drive (both from it's small internal as well as streaming from your PC or Mac). Additionally, it also streams your music and photo collections to your TV. There is very little internet integration, and no DVR integration.

My take on AppleTV is it's fairly incremental: it doesn't replace my DVR, it doesn't bring any "must-have" content to the table, and it doesn't provide any great internet integration. Apple's approach was to work with Hollywood and secure deals to bring the content they control to the device as downloads - I think of this as a lot like Apple being a cable company: providing the content, but doing it one piece of content at a time. Someone who only watched shows (and no sports) that Apple offered could conceivably get rid of cable and consume content from Apple TV, but they'd be missing a ton.

Google TV

Google's vision for it's foray into TV is more grandiose: a software platform that OEM electronic manufacturers can use to build set-top boxes that integrate with your existing system (DVR and cable box via IR blaster), and will integrate web and existing content together. It will allow you to use Google TV to search content across your DVR and the web, and choose to display any of that content on the TV. The software is Android (yes, the same on the mobile phone), and it comes with a full featured browser that will allow you to access the web on the phone. In that respect, this could be a pretty sweet system: you have your existing content on your DVR and cable system, and now you can bring the web's content on (presumably from places like Hulu with a subscription) easily.

Google's vision appears to be to enter the living room by doing something similar to what it did with web search: bring together existing content from various places (cable TV, web, etc.) and display this, with one device, on your TV. With this approach Google is not trying to be a cable company (like I have accused Apple of), but I believe is attempting to become more of "Google for TV" - searching and finding content wherever is exists and displaying it easily on your TV. In some sense this is a lot like Clicker, who are trying to be the "TV Guide of the Internet". Of course, the vision is larger as Google TV integrates your existing content as well, and is aiming to hit you where you want to watch TV - your living room.