Google I/O, Google's developer conference held last week in San Francisco, emphasized Android (TM) software featuring new standards and designs that give users consistency across watches, smartphones, tablets, computers, cars and TVs. At Google I/O, Chris Mckillop, Google's Engineering Manager for Android TV claimed the average American watches more than 30 hours of TV a week and 5 billion hours of TV are watched each day throughout the world.
Google is trying to make Android software a TV industry standard, just as it has taken market leadership in smartphones. In 2013, Gartner estimates that Android had 78% smartphone market share, compared to 16% for Apple's iOS. Gartner estimates a billion Android smartphones will be shipped in 2014. Google estimates that 120 million smart TVs are shipped annually. Compared with smartphone sales, smart TV sales are small.
There are many ways to make an old TV smart. I've plugged Nintendo's Wii, Apple's iPhone, Sony's smart DVD players and Amazon's Kindle into a TV to share videos. It's been a hard fight for manufacturers to replace the set-top boxes offered by cable and satellite vendors.
In 2007, Apple launched Apple TV, a box that worked with a computer. In 2008, a computer was no longer needed. In 2010, Google TV was featured in some Sony TVs and DVD players. Google TV runs on LG 47G2 and 55G2 TVs, as well as ASUS CUBE, Hisense Pulse, Netgear's NeoTV, Sony NSZ-GS7 Internet Player and Vizio Co-Star streaming media boxes that attach to a TV.
In 2013, Google launched the small $35 Chromecast device that plugs into an HDMI port and connects to the Internet using WiFi. You send videos to Google Cast devices like Chromecast using a smart phone, tablet or laptop.
With more than a billion active users, a million apps and 50 billion app downloads, Google can leverage its Google Play (TM) store to sell TV apps. Apps and games on Android TV won't just be in your television, they may come through your set top box, your video recorder, game console or other device. In its attempt to simplify the smart TV experience, Google has standards for TV remotes and game controllers. The standard remote will be simple with arrows, no keyboard. Unlike tablets, TVs don't have touch screens, so users will operate Android TVs by pointing arrows at boxes on the screen, which might show streaming services like Netflix or YouTube, or they may show movie titles.
Expect to see more two screen apps for smartphones and TVs working together. Games are treated separately and Google will give game console manufacturers strong competition, as they mandate Android TV manufacturers must have good graphics. Google will help vendors sell on TV. For example, consumers might be reminded to order a pizza from their TV. Google can recommend videos for you, just like Amazon does.
As an alternative to Android TV, you could use an Amazon Fire TV, a $99 box that connects to a TV and pay $99 annually for Amazon Prime to access movies and TV programs. Google is testing their Android TV software with an HDHomeRun box from Livermore's SiliconDust that lets you stream video across your home WiFi network. Developers can create software on Google's test ADT-1 hardware that they gave to attendees interested in developing for TV at Google I/O.
Smart TV efforts have yet to take the industry by storm. Android TV promises to be aesthetically more pleasing and richer for developers than the older Google TV. TVs are now powerful enough to run games and networks are starting to stream video reliably. Google has the clout to persuade major TV manufacturers to run their software and redefine what TV watching means.
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