Is Google the future of TV?

Google has recently announced a new compact dongle for your TV. It provides more capabilities than a standard Chromecast dongle as it will run Android TV, with one major twist. This dongle will provide a bespoke interface (launcher) that is rumored to offer a more “content centric” interface or, to put it another way, will have less focus on apps and games.

Is this just another in a long list of widely available ‘Smart TV OS’ interfaces? Will this be the one UI to rule them all? Somehow, I doubt it. However, I do think it will be a good thing for the industry as a whole.

Let’s consider the history of video devices in the home. Years ago, we made the decision to fork out the cash to buy a shiny flat panel TV, debating whether a 42” inch with 1080p was worth missing a car payment. Or, if we could refinance the house and get that 50” HD TV that we were sure would give us a “better than reality” quality picture. It was great, for a few years until 3D TV came on the scene (remember those glasses!?). 3D never really took off while at the same time, streaming services started to become more widely available.

Enter Chromecast - that slick little device that could magically allow you to ‘cast’ your favorite YouTube videos right onto the TV. Soon after, the flood gates opened and brands like Roku, Netflix, Hulu, Apple TV became commonplace – at least to video aficionados. Each Christmas, a doorbuster deal would entice us to replace the living room TV with an even better, bigger TV with the streaming services built in and the old TV’s got ‘smart’ with whatever streaming device was on sale that year. That was fine until the next wave of TV/video technology came along.

Once the smoke cleared and the dust settled, we were left with a different ‘smart’ UI on every TV in the home, each with its own remote control, multiple logins and totally different feature sets. Some of us even found ourselves learning how to switch TV inputs, using HDMI 1 to access our linear, local and live channels form our Service Operator; then switching to our favorite dongle plugged into HDMI 2 to binge watch streaming content. You can only imagine families gathering to watch their favorite programs but having to fumble around with inputs, passwords and clumsy onscreen keyboards. Talk about challenging!

Why is it so hard for us with all this technology to get this right? Consumers have spent thousands of dollars on TVs, complementary devices and access to higher bandwidth (more than we could possibly ever use). How is it possible that is more complicated now to access content than it was years ago, when all we had to was grab the right VHS tape? Is this really a ‘Smart TV’?

I believe the answer lies in two simple features we desperately need:

  1. Single Sign On for all of our OTT applications
  2. multi-user profiles at the Device OS level where OTT apps can inherit them.

Imagine a world where the first time you login to a device, your applications are instantly installed and authorized with synchronized authentication supported by your main username and password. Imagine that you could then easily manage, at the account level, access to applications to family members and even apply parental controls. Then, imagine using voice or face recognition to easily switch between users instead of clicking all over. All of this technology exists today … why hasn’t it been adopted?

I believe there is one platform that could accomplish this, and it is Google’s Android TV. Why? Google already has the makings of the best TV app store, they are the inventors of Chromecast and Android TV has inherent support. They also have realized and embraced the role of the TV service provider, adding key features that allow integration of various linear TV inputs (QAM, ATSC, DVB for example) as well as allowing, and in fact encouraging, service providers to launch on their OS. This means that even as Google and others launch new devices in the retail space, Service Operators are deploying devices that can utilize the same logins and take advantage of the same inherent technologies opening the possibilities for all sorts of new interactions. Consider also the number of consumers with Android phones. They already have a Google account and are just waiting for an Android TV device to sign into. The possibilities are endless. Let’s see if Google can make it happen.

Bill Hughes
Director of Product Management