I’m home from the IFA conference in Berlin, but the show continued on without me–and today’s major event was a keynote by Google CEO Eric Schmidt, with an extended demonstration of Google TV. You can watch it here.
The Google TV demo didn’t really involve any new news, but it was significant as Google’s first public walkthrough of the platform since Apple announced the all-new Apple TV. The names may be similar, but the two companies’ approaches to TV really are radically different.
Apple’s box is a walled garden that aims to make it as simple as possible to watch a well-defined selection of content: movie and TV rentals from Apple itself, and all-you-can-eat programming via Netflix Watch Instantly. Google TV, on the other hand–which will be available at first on a box from Logitech as well as Sony TVs and Blu-Ray players–is about making it easy to find video everywhere, from cable channels to the Web. It includes a general-purpose Web browser, too. And it will run Android apps. (Apple didn’t say anything at its event last week about Apple TV running iOS or supporting third-party programs.)
It’s impossible to judge these Internet TV platforms until they go on sale. But Google TV is easily the more interesting one. However cool Apple TV turns out to be–and it does look neat–it’s not going to be a breakthrough. In terms of both broad concept and specific features, it’s very similar to Roku’s already-available, already-pleasing player. Apple’s challenge is to do what Roku has done even better, and to make it far more broadly popular.
Google TV, however, tries to solve a problem that companies have been working on for fifteen years without much success at all: Melding the Internet with traditional TV programming and making it all make sense on a TV screen. (Actually, it’s quite similar to Microsoft’s largely forgotten second-generation WebTV from the 1990s.) If it works well, it’ll be a much more important product than Apple TV–but if history is any evidence, the odds are stacked against it.
I’m looking forward to trying both of ‘em. Do you covet one or the other?