At their annual I/O developers event last week, Google announced "Google TV", an open platform for TV-related devices based on their Android mobile OS and Chrome browser.
Many people have tried in the past to combine the web and TV experiences, but none have been hugely successful. Google claims that the reason Google TV will succeed is that unlike previous efforts, they are not trying to re-create the web for the TV, they want to bring the existing web to the TV. They're also working with an impressive array of partners including Sony, Intel, Logitech and Bestbuy.
Google TV consists of a hardware specification and a software platform. The hardware specification includes Wifi & Ethernet for broadband Internet access, HDMI to connect to an existing set-top box and an Infra-red transceiver for remote control. Also included is an Intel Atom processor, a dedicated DSP for high definition audio & surround sound and a GPU which can handle advanced 2D & 3D graphics. Input devices will all include a keyboard and pointing device to enable web page navigation and can use an IP-based remote control protocol to communicate with the Google TV device. Also mentioned was an IP protocol to communicate with cable/satellite/terrestrial set-top boxes for integrations such as retrieving TV listings and setting a recording schedule.
The first Google TV devices will include a TV from Sony and a set-top box from Logitech and will be available in the Autumn.
The software platform is based on Google's Android mobile OS with their Chrome web browser and Adobe Flash. Existing android apps should already run on Google TV as long as they don't rely on any missing hardware or software and a full SDK will be available in early 2011. As well as Android apps, the device will run HTML5 apps over the web. Any web application should work but guidelines have already been issued for optimising web apps for the TV form factor. Web APIs will be issued along with the Android SDK early next year and will probably include standard ways to control web apps from the Google TV input devices. You will be able to control the first Google TV devices from Android phones and install apps from another web-connected device.
Google hopes to open source all of the software through the Android and Chrome projects by summer 2011.
My initial impressions of Google TV are that on its own it isn't anything hugely innovative, similar things have been done before. But with a powerful hardware stack, a proven open software platform and some big brands behind it, Google TV could finally be the platform which successfully merges the web and TV and enables a new generation of innovative services. If HTML5 lives up to its promise then native Android apps one day be redundant as HTML5 matures and provides an equivalent user experience in a more open way.
With HTML5 support building on netbooks, smartphones, tablets and now TVs & set-top boxes I'm excited about the potential of future web applications on this new range of form factors. I think that in a couple of years time the web is going to be even more graphical, even more interactive and even more ubiquitous than ever before and the desktop PC will no longer be the primary means of accessing online content.
Are you ready for the web on your TV?