Google’s innovations and technologies are constantly becoming more prevalent in our lives. Google already has a firm hold on the computer and mobile markets, but soon, Google technology will find a way into another room in your house—the living room. Google is currently developing “Google TV,” a platform that will deliver web content, everything from Twitter to YouTube and Hulu to Picasa, through televisions and set-top boxes. Google has realized that more and more consumers are exploring ways to bring web content to their TVs, and they want to play a central role. They are teaming up with Sony and Intel to develop the first set of devices, but all device and TV manufacturers will have access to Google’s software platform. Clearly, Google faces a lot of competition in this field, as they will be competing with everyone from TiVo, to Apple (remember the Apple TV?), to smaller companies like Roku and Boxee. Yet, there is a unique element to Google’s foray—the Google TV software will be open-source.
Why does Google plan on opening up its software? Google feels that the various set-top boxes that currently exist are too limited in the amount of web content that they offer. By opening up the software platform to developers, the company hopes that it will “spur the same outpouring of creativity that consumers have seen in applications for cell phones.” In fact, the Google TV software will be based on their Android operating system for smartphones, so that developers already familiar with the platform can begin developing software quickly. Google will deliver a toolkit to programmers in the next few months.
It will be interesting to see how Google’s move will play out. With such a crowded market, Google can only succeed by having an innovative, unique product, so it makes sense that Google chose to make its software open-source. Yet, I am curious about how open the platform will actually be. Google may allow anyone to manipulate and change the source code of their software, but will device manufacturers allow independent developers to put their software on the devices, without any restrictions, or will it be limited to the device-specific software? Perhaps Google will take a page from Apple’s book and make something similar to the app store where developers can upload their software, which must be pre-approved by Google before users can download it onto their devices.
Additionally, it seems like the current collection of set-top boxes are aimed at people who value simplicity and ease of use over modifiability. Those values aren’t necessarily at odds with each other, but Google seems to be positioning its software for use on higher-end, more powerful and customizable devices (probably costing over $200). At some point, the average user may just decide to go for the easier to use and more inexpensive devices out there (like the $80 Roku) rather than spend extra for a Google TV device, as they may not find the extra power necessary or valuable. The power user, at the other end of the spectrum, may wish to skip the Google TV as well and simply hook a computer up to the TV, which would be the most powerful solution. Therefore, the very nature of the device as a middle ground, so to speak, may result in a relatively small user base. Yet, if Google can properly harness the innovation of the open-source development community, their software could become the best around and take the set-top box market by storm.