Google TV 2.0: Too Little, Too Late?
Like many other early adopters, I’ve been eagerly awaiting the Honeycomb update that was originally scheduled to hit the Google TV last June, and which finally began rolling out October 30th (first to Sony devices, followed by Logitech).
The Honeycomb update was not only long overdue, it was also sorely needed. Google TV launched with a lot of fanfare last year, but the excitement quickly fizzled as Hulu, followed by all the major service providers, blocked Google TV’s browser from accessing their streaming content.
Lack of content wasn’t the only problem. The initial screen layout was difficult to use in a living room setting, and many users complained about the complexity of the navigation and remote controls (the Logitech Revue uses a full-size wireless keyboard, and Sony devices come with a large white controller that is easily mistaken for a label maker.)
On the whole, and as Leslie often quips: The first iteration of GoogleTV didn’t work well as a TV or a PC.
Consumer uptake waned. As a result, in July, Logitech dropped the price of its Revue to $99 (about a 60% reduction) after returns eclipsed sales. In early August, Sony followed suit by slashing prices on its Google TV devices across the board. The Sony NSZ-GT1 Blu-ray player, which was $399 last November, dropped to $299 and is now selling for $199. D’oh!
Google TV 2.0 looked good on paper. The Android Market with apps optimized for TV, a simplified user interface, an improved YouTube experience, and improved search with a dedicated TV & Movies app? Sounds like a great idea. But, as usual, the devil is in the details.
The “TV & Movies” feature seemed very promising — especially because it included search results from Amazon Instant Video, which previously existed only as a link to the main Amazon website in Google TV 1.0.
Unfortunately, I was sorely disappointed. The app displayed search results from Netflix, Amazon, YouTube and other sources, but that’s where its utility ended. It didn’t show which results were Amazon Prime titles (and therefore free to Amazon Prime partakers), and it didn’t know which we’d already purchased.
I had to follow a link to buy the title, which kicked me back out to the Chrome Browser to select my video. The Netflix integration wasn’t much better: The Netflix app crashed the first few times I tried to play a video, and required another button press to start the video once it launched. It ended up feeling like a whole lot of work for something that was supposed to make things easier.
News of the Android Market coming to Google TV had me excited, I’ll admit. I imagined all sorts of useful apps, optimized for the television, and I couldn’t wait to give them a spin. But then I opened up the Android Market for the first time, and was greeted by the top TV app: AOL HD. (Sigh.) The featured TV apps also included a word scramble game, a couple of news reader apps, and an unintentionally hilarious app called Classy Fireplace.
The most useful app, Clicker for Google TV, was buried beneath all the others. Unlike the preinstalled TV & Movies app, Clicker can actually tell which Amazon titles you already own, and which you can stream for free through Amazon Prime. Hallelujah!
Clicker is also supposed to pull in free full episodes from the web that aren’t blocked on the Google TV, but every episode I tried gave me the old “Sorry, you can only view this video on a standard laptop or desktop computer.” In other words, “Nice try, but we know that’s a Google TV you’re using.”
Poor selection aside, I ran into a major problem while trying to install these apps: They take a surprisingly long time to install. To boot, the install progress isn’t shown, but the application appears to be available right away. This resulted in about 20 minutes of cryptic error messages while I tried to launch an app, before I finally got a popup notification that it had been successfully installed.
(more after the break)
The most disappointing aspect of the “new” Google TV is that they removed useful functionality for apparently no good reason. In Google TV 1.0, pressing the menu button in any service or application gave you the option to exit. Alas. This is no longer the case, and only a few applications like Netflix actually have the option to exit. Instead, you’re left to push the “back” button repeatedly, or just pressing the home button (which leaves the application visible behind the home menu). Even more perplexing is that for the Sony Blu-ray player, there doesn’t seem to be a way to exit the Disc Player app at all — even the back button doesn’t work.
I was really rooting for Google get it right this time, but once again great ideas were dampened by poor implementation. For all its delays, the Google TV platform still feels like a rushed beta version.
Ever the optimist: With new hardware on the horizon in 2012 (Samsung and Vizio are confirmed to be among the vendors), maybe Google will iron things out. A girl can hope. 🙂