By Seth Weintraub
October 14, 2010

In a discussion with Google’s Rishi Chandra, I got insight into what Google sees for the future of TV.

Demo units are still en route to reviewers but I thought it would be interesting to get a look at where Google (GOOG) saw its GoogleTV product going over the coming months and years.  I spoke with Product Manager Rishi Chandra who unveiled the product at Google I/O earlier this year (with requisite wireless difficulties).

The first thing that caught me was his assertion that soon all TVs would have a browser built into them.  At first glance it  seems extraneous to put the needed hardware and user interface into all TVs, especially inexpensive ones.

Soon cheap ARM chips, already used as controllers in HDTVs, will be able to run an OS as complex as GoogleTV at roughly the same component cost.  The GoogleTVs that were released this week run on costlier but more powerful Intel chips.   But, as ARM-powered Roku and Apple with their sub- $100 offerings have shown, the price of making a TV smarter is plummeting.

Google plans to open source the GoogleTV OS next year.  The current software is based on Android 2.1, the OS that is making major inroads as a smartphoneOS running on cheap ARM chips.  Chandra said future upgrades will keep its phone and TV OSes relatively at parity.

Just like in smartphones, Google hopes that giving the OS away for free and making money on search is a winning strategy for TVs.  Advertising on GoogleTV won’t start until next year.

The fact that GoogleTV runs an older version of Android means that browser and overall OS speed improvements will likely be coming soon in GoogleTV updates.

Similar economic and technology forces will change the remotes and controller devices to TVs as well.  Those $129 Logitech and Sony Qwerty remotes that accompany the debut GoogleTVs will become cheaper as supply ramps up.  Bluetooth Qwerty keyboards can already be found for as low as $25.   Smartphones however, may take over as the dominant way which people control their televisions, so traditional remotes may disappear entirely.

The most important factor in bringing web to televisions is demand.  Soon, the desire for content from the Internet will supersede, or at least draw equal with, the demand for traditional channels.  Browser-less TVs won’t sell, just like a TV without a remote or cable tuner support is a hard sell now.

GoogleTV’s roll out:

Chandra wouldn’t give me timeframes or dates for further expansion but he did expect partnerships with  cable/satellite companies both domestically and abroad to be announced.  He was particularly excited about Europe where different laws make it easier for cable TV companies to innovate and compete.

Asked about whether GoogleTV would be embraced by non-techies, those who might not be comfortable with a keyboard in the living room, Chandra said, “Almost everyone is familiar with a keyboard by now, and uses it to watch videos on a computer. We’re just moving the keyboard to a different room and setting, one more conducive to watching TV.”

When asked why WebTV and all of the previous attempts to bring the Web and TV together failed and why GoogleTV will be a success, Chandra says that, more than anything else, timing is key.  “We are at a tipping point,” he said.  Web video has finally matured and there is enough compelling content available on YouTube and other platforms that will drive usage.

Also, it is important that broadband carriers can deliver data and that WiFi is fast enough to deliver that data throughout the home without redoing home wiring.  Finally, the prices of components powerful enough to build a full HD set top box have dropped enough to garner mass market appeal.

Google doesn’t expect this to be a huge hit right away.  Just like Android smartphones took about a year to gain footing, GoogleTV will hit the early adopters first and hopefully gain traction from there.  It’s initial partners Sony and Logitech will do a lot of the marketing.

Other companies may soon join the movement.  Samsung, who’ve found a hit with their Android-powered Galaxy S smartphones built with their own ARM chips, Flash storage and high-end displays, are rumored to be working on cheaper ARM-based GoogleTVs for 2011.  LG, another Korean Android maker would be another good fit, though it just signed a deal with Plex to be the OS on its Internet TVs.  Vizio already has an apps platform on their high-end TVs but may be persuaded to move to GoogleTV if customers demand more than they can offer.

Google doesn’t seem to be in a big hurry.  Their strategy is to be there for the long haul, improving the experience and bringing more and more partners on board so that when every TV does have a browser, the OS it uses is GoogleTV.

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