Google TV: Five Burning Questions

Google, Intel, and Sony are reportedly banding together to produce a Web content platform for your living room called Google TV. The new platform would reportedly be available as a set-top box or as part of a Web-capable television. Google TV would be based on Google's mobile operating system, Android, and would also include a version of the Chrome browser for using Web applications like Twitter or Picasa, Google's online photo sharing and storage service, according to The New York Times.

The whole idea behind Google TV, the Times reports, is to create smartphone-like applications that make using the Web on your television as easy as changing the channel. Google hopes to encourage third-party developers to create apps for Google TV with the same enthusiasm they have for creating Android smartphone apps. In the coming months, Google will provide an application development toolkit for Google TV, and the Times says we could see Google TV-related products as early as this summer. It's not clear how these apps will be distributed, but presumably, Google will offer some kind of online marketplace as it does for Android smartphones.

Device supremacy in the living room is something of a Holy Grail for technology companies. There are many set-top boxes on the market today that can stream online video from YouTube, rent premium video content, and browse the Web, such as the three major gaming consoles (Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and Wii), TiVo digital video recorders, Apple TV, and the Roku set-top box.

However, none of these products have been able to gain a significant enough user base to be declared the preferred living room device where you can view your online and physical content, such as DVDs, in one place. Will Google be able to fare better than its competitors, and dominate the living room with Google TV devices? Perhaps, but here's what I'm wondering about Google TV.

Is Google TV really a platform or a product?

Since Google is partnering with Sony, I can only assume that the first Google TV set-top boxes and televisions will be coming from Sony. But it's not very Google-like to be tied down to one manufacturer. So how long will it take before other companies can put Google TV-capability in their products? Will Google TV be an exclusive feature for Sony products, or will we also see Google TV-capability from other big manufacturers like LG, Samsung and Panasonic?

How viable is Web browsing in the living room?

Set-top boxes that play video games, let you watch videos, view photo slideshows, and listen to music are great ideas, but what about the rest of the Web? The fact is that Web content is text heavy with a large number of blogs, news sites, and social networks that people visit on a daily basis.

But you tend to sit quite a few feet back from the television in your living room, which makes it harder and less comfortable to read text. So how probable is that you'll want to use your television for Twitter or Instant messenger chats? There have been many failed experiments that have tried to bring the Web to your living room TV, and I think one of the main reasons for this failure is that there's something artificial about Web browsing on a screen that's about ten feet away from where you're sitting.

One possible solution would be the ability to take your Nexus One, iPhone, or even iPad and turn it into a visual remote. Imagine looking at a Web page on your mobile device and then having your handset navigation reflected on your television? That way you could easily read a news story on the screen in your hand, and then view the news story's accompanying video on your TV. Now that would be a killer combination.

Will it have Netflix inside?

Netflix-capable devices are a big deal these days; you can already get Netflix-capable televisions and set-top boxes from major manufacturers like LG, Panasonic, Sony, Samsung, and Vizio. Will the Android box have this capability as well? Netflix could build its own application for Google TV using the reported toolkit, but I think Netflix would prefer its service to be an integrated feature for living room devices instead of being just another application in what could become a crowded Google TV marketplace.

Will Google TV have Bluetooth?

Google, Sony, and Intel have reportedly tapped Logitech to develop peripheral devices for Google TV such as a remote with a small keyboard. It's not clear yet how Logitech devices will connect with the set-top box, but Bluetooth seems to make the most sense. If that's the case, I have to wonder: will I be able to use standard Bluetooth keyboards (or even a mouse) with Google TV, or will Google's new platform only work with Logitech devices?

How will Google TV's advertising work?

The New York Times reports that Google's biggest motivation for developing Google TV is to "ensure that its...search and advertising systems, play a central role." Does that mean we'll only see Google's regular Web-based advertising? Or will Google ads be pushed into Google TV applications and possibly even regular Web browsing? Will I see, for example, Google ads injected below videos on Hulu or The New York Times Web site? There's already a lot of intrusive advertising on television and the Web, will Google TV make this situation better or worse?

Those are the questions that are top of my mind, what do you think of putting Google in your living room? Will this be a winner for Google or just another failed experiment that tries to bring the Web to your TV?

Connect with Ian on Twitter (@ianpaul) or on Google Buzz.

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