Google has finally brought apps to Google TV, along with a revamped interface that makes it easier to search for shows and movies. YouTube playback has been updated as well, with HD videos being played by default and automatic playlist creation based on the types of videos you’re watching.
Perhaps the biggest news here is the inclusion of third-party apps downloadable from the Android Market. You’ll only see apps specifically created for Google TV—Google says that 50 developers will have new apps ready at launch—but Rishi Chandra, director of product management for Google TV told me, “It’s actually not that much work to take an existing app and bring it to TV. A lot of it is enabling D-pad functionality” for apps that normally respond to touch input.
And then there’s the elephant in the room: certain big TV networks’ and websites’ insistence on blocking streaming video from being played on Google TV. This update in and of itself doesn’t bring about any new deals with the likes of CBS and Hulu, but the inclusion of apps may make that a moot point anyway. I asked Chandra what would stop a developer from making a Google TV web browser that would present itself as a normal web browser, effectively enabling the playback of content that’s normally blocked.
My question: “If I’m a developer, can I create a web browser—since the browser’s based on Chrome anyway—that spoofs itself as a normal desktop Chrome browser, or is that something that you guys would have to weed out of the Android Market?”
“The Android Market’s an open market so unless you’re breaking the terms of service, we don’t weed you out. So I think there will be a whole bunch of innovation from developers. For me, the more interesting innovation will be content that you don’t get on TV and the new experiences. You may find developers doing exactly what you’re suggesting but my feeling is that if it’s not hitting the real user problem, which is, in my mind, how you find things—content discovery—I don’t know what the adoption rate’s going to be. But, yes, the marketplace does open up a whole range of opportunities for developers to create these new applications. So, for example, if Firefox wanted to bring their web browser to the television, they could do that because Android is an open ecosystem.”
That’s good news, no matter which way you slice it. Obviously Chandra can’t just come out and say, “Yes, there’s now going to be a way around these paranoid, backward media companies,” but that’s exactly what the inclusion of Android apps to the Google TV platform could provide.
The updated software will begin rolling out “to Sony devices starting early next week and Logitech devices soon thereafter,” says Google. No new hardware until next year, either, but I was told we’ll get a glimpse of some of it in early January at the big Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.