The last time the web smashed into television, over a decade ago, it exploded like poorly made breast implants. So why are we so excited about Google TV?
One Word: Apps
A desktop interface doesn't work on a television. It's half the reason the web on TV bombed the last time around. But the industry seems to have learned its lesson: TV apps need a TV interface. Check out the apps on the Xbox 360. They're not a bad start. The same way it took thousands of developers to unlock the potential of the 3.5-inch screens inside our pockets, developers can turn the 50-inch displays in our living rooms into something else entirely. Being able to look at actual stock quotes on CNBC while Jim Cramer's head turns read and pops like a pimple, or tweeting about how crazy it is that Don Draper's secretary just said that thing about black people is just the beginning of what apps on a television can be. And Google TV's the first TV platform to make that a real possibility.
It Plays Real Nice With All Our Phones
AirPlay, AirPoop. Google TV doesn't have Apple TV's xenophobia - in addition to letting you control it with your Android phone, it has love for iOS devices as well. And it's got streaming powers on steroids, like Chrome to Phone, plus Apple's AirPlay. You can "fling" websites, photos, songs and videos from your phone to your TV instantly. (Though I suspect Android phones will have the most phone-to-TV superpowers, for obvious reasons, thanks in part to things like integration with Google Music.) Like we've said before, touchscreen phones are basically the best remotes in the world, since they can display any kind of control scheme and shift to the best one for the task - keyboard, media controls, whatever.
It's a Platform
Here's the thing about Apple TV or Roku or most of the other boxes out there: They're just one box, or a couple at most. Google TV, on the other hand, is a full-on platform. It's in Logitech boxes and Sony TVs to start. But it's going to be in lots of other boxes and TVs too. Which means there's a much bigger chance Google TV's going to be the first computer/web thing in the living room to have critical mass. (With the exception of gaming consoles, which aren't trying to do the same thing.) That's potentially a huge opportunity, which gives a lot more incentive for developers to work on apps and for media companies to bring their content to Google. And if you've watched the App Store for iOS devices grow, you know how these things snowball.
It Looks Polished (for a Google Product)
Anybody remember Android 1.0? Google Wave? The permafrost beta label on half the products Google rolls out? Google TV doesn't look like any of the half-arsed initial efforts Google usually produces and quickly iterates into something better, jerking forward with a crazed momentum. Nope, it looks polished and slick and well thought out, right now. And it looks like all of that stuff is organised in a way that makes sense to anybody trained to use Google - pretty much anybody who'd buy a Google TV. I don't always know what channel or website Dexter is on; I just want to watch it, wherever it comes from. Google TV makes it so that doesn't matter.
And If Google can improve the service as fast as it made Android better, rapidly integrating lessons learned from the way people use the product? That would be a serious change of pace from the way the TV business usually works. I mean, hell, it takes a month to get the installation guy just to swing by your place to fix your box. Google could change everything on your box in half a second.
It's Got a Ton of Content Already
It's ready to compete with every other box out there, right off the bat (in the US, at least). Netflix, Amazon Video. Specialised content from TBS, Cartoon Network, CNBC, HBO Go. Pandora, Twitter. The NBA. All it's missing are the major networks and ESPN, and by and large, they haven't been too friendly with most of the other boxes either. But all that stuff could very well come in time (Hulu Plus is spreading almost as fast as Netflix), especially if Google TV establishes a monster-sized footprint in people's living rooms.
Google also gets the internet in a way that most of the other guys trying to get into your living room don't. Which means everything that's great about the cloud - seamlessly moving stuff from device to device to device, pulling your content from anywhere, it's gonna work better on Google TV than anybody else's box. Google's got no reason to keep you inside the box. Google wants you on the web.
Boxes next to our TV don't make us excited very often anymore. But Google TV is a lot more than a box.