Is the Android TV platform a winner?

Last week, Google held their annual conference and made some major announcements including the Android TV software platform. As some of you may recall, this isn’t the company’s first foray into online TV. Back in 2010 the company launched its first initiative with the unsuccessful Google TV, a software platform that worked on top of Logitech and Sony devices. After the V1 showed lackluster sales, the company launched a V2 that gave users a better interface and access to Android apps, which still wasn’t enough. Then in 2012, the company unveiled the Nexus Q, a decent looking set-top box that was so poorly received that it never made it to production. Not to be discouraged, the company released the Chromecast in 2013, a streaming HDMI stick that broadcasts content directly from your mobile device or computer.

Similar to Google TV, Android TV is a software platform that will sit on top of OEM devices and smart TVs from companies like Sony, Sharp, LG, Asus, and Razer. A major pain point that Google cited for this move is the lack of a unified operating system and fragmented landscape currently available. Google is also learning from its success of the Chromecast and has enabled Android TV to stream content directly from the host device as well as support for native apps like Netflix, Hulu, and others. Finally, Android TV is also focusing more on gaming with a proprietary controller and dedicated sections on the home screen, an attempt to capture the casual gaming market like the Amazon Fire and OUYA.

So what makes this rev any different? Lets first look at the Chromecast. It’s a simple piece of equipment with a relatively low price point, $35 dollars versus the $100+ devices from competitors like Roku, so you can attach one to every TV in the house. It is also INCREDIBLY simple to use. Fred Wilson wrote a quick piece about the dongle last week highlighting its ease-of-use and stating that his son was able to quickly get up and running with minimal setup time. This is largely due to the fact that content is stored separately on the device — no fumbling around with individual apps or dealing with clunky user interfaces. With Android TV, users will also have this function, and that’s a significant factor that people will be attracted to. I believe there is a much lower tolerance threshold for TV-related technologies compared to devices like computers or phones, so simplicity is a prerequisite.

As I read more into the Android TV I am optimistic. I like that Google is working with manufactures to essentially abstract a layer on top of the hardware and provide the beginnings of a universal experience, similar to the mobile OS. I also think that timing is much better than when Google TV first launched. One of the main criticisms with Google TV was the lack of a strong third party ecosystem, something that is significantly stronger now. However I also see potential pitfalls, one of them being the fragmentation from multiple hardware manufactures and multiple versions — similar to mobile. Then there is also the fact that the competitive landscape is crowded with numerous companies building their own proprietary set-top boxes, you can see the full list on our future of TV scan.

For the full presentation at Google I/O click here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y3dCUPeyhag

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