Rodney King’s plaintive wail summed up the Google vs. Apple wars. “Why can’t we all just get along?”
If you thought Apple’s war with Google was limited to iPhone vs. Android phone, look again. Digital wars are breaking out left and right. The latest war theater is the home theater. It’s Google TV vs. Apple TV. Simplicity vs. complexity. The war of all wars. Who will control the content in your living room?
You vs. The Cable Company
Most of us are not all too happy with what goes on in the living room. Most of what we see on television is controlled one of two ways (allow me to consider cable TV and satellite TV as a similar entity).
First, the cable TV company controls what we watch from a list of networks.
For a price. A hefty price. For a fist full of dollars.
For a few dollars more they’ll rent us a Digital Video Recorder, a DVR, which lets us record what we want to watch, and time shift the shows and movies, and fast forward over the commercials.
Second, the good, the bad, and the ugly of that situation means that everything else we watch—home videos, Blu-ray movies, DVDs, whatever—becomes merely another device with a gang of wires that we attach to our increasingly inexpensive flat screen TVs.
Apple TV vs. Google TV
Apple’s think different attitude produced a hobby product called Apple TV. The original version was a mini mini Mac that would sync to our Macs and PCs and let us browse the iTunes Store to buy TV shows and movies to download and watch.
For what amounted to a hefty price tag, eventually dribbling down to $299, Apple TV didn’t do much. Sure, we could view our photos from iPhoto, watch whatever movies and TV shows we had stuffed into iTunes, but Apple TV was long on promise and short on features. Not a DVR to be found (without significant expense and effort).
Now there’s a new Apple TV. It’s smaller, faster, wireless, and relatively cheap at a mere $99. There’s no storage to manage, connects via HDMI cable to our televisions, and comes with the promise to stream whatever media is on our iDevices (iPhone, iPod touch, iPad) to Apple TV to the television.
Just as Google provided the Android software platform to cell phone makers to compete with Apple’s groundbreaking iPhone OS (now iOS), the company is doing the same with a software platform for set-top boxes and HD TV’s (also based on Android) called Google TV.
The first Google TV effort is the Logitech Revue, a $299 box that connects to the internet and your modern television. What Google TV displays on screen is controlled via a keyboard-controller-trackpad.
Connect your TV, cable or satellite set-top box, and internet connection to Google TV and you’re good to go. Yes, that means you have two set-top boxes. Google TV will sit between your cable or satellite set-top box and the television, whereas, Apple TV aims to connect to your television’s second HDMI input.
This is where it gets messy. Both Google TV and Apple TV require modern televisions with HDMI ports. Google TV in the Logitech Revue version requires set-top boxes with HDMI ports. Click here for a list. It remains to be seen how happy the cable and satellite TV folks will be with Google TV devices connecting to their devices.
Software And Content Selection
At first look, Google TV appears to have more content and onscreen options available than Apple TV. Google TV can search Google’s search engine, and provides a big, fat, web browser on the screen. The wireless keyboard makes your TV function like a giant browser with a few additional apps.
As it is with Apple TV, Google TV has a limited number of apps available. Netflix, Pandora, Napster, Twitter, YouTube, CNBC are a few. Sincle Google TV is base on Android OS, Google promises more apps in the future.
Google TV is controlled via the wireless keyboard but can also be controlled via a smart phone with a Google TV app. The Google TV home screen is customizable and displays bookmarks, apps, TV schedule, web sites, and more. The picture-in-picture, Dual View function looks cool. View live TV in one window while checking online scores or browsing in another.
For now, it appears that Google TV only integrates digital video recorder (DVR) functionality with Dish Network devices. Cable TV companies cannot be happy about a situation where a customer parks Google TV between the television and the cable company’s set-top box.
Out of the gate, both Google TV devices (using Logitech Revue) and Apple TV are thin on content, apps, and one highly important function. Apple hasn’t announced that apps will play a part inside Apple TV, but has announced AirPlay, which will stream media from newer iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad devices through Apple TV to the television.
Google TV has the ability to control, manage, display whatever content comes from the cable TV or satellite TV set-top box, making the overall experience more seamless and unified. Apple TV is a separate device with a remote control that does not control the set-top box, but controls streaming content from Apple or the iDevice trio.
Both are missing a number of killer features for the living room.
First on my list is a DVR. For now, both Google TV (partially) and Apple TV require that we control DVR functions the old fashioned way.
Using the device provided by the cable TV or satellite TV company. Apple TV is more about renting content, while Google is more about integrating content.
Another feature that’s missing in action is video calling, either through FaceTime or Skype. It seems logical that both Apple and Google will find a way to integrate FaceTime or Skype video calling into future upgrades.
From my perspective, both devices are intriguing, interesting, yet immature. Each takes a different approach to the same objective. Managing content in the living room. Google TV is complex and expensive. Apple TV (for now) is simple and inexpensive. I think the keys to mass adoption for either device will be:
- Integrate DVR functionality
- Integrate video calling
- Integrate devices specific apps
- Integrate internet and network content
Apple’s lower price for Apple TV and smooth integration with tens of millions of iDevices make it an attractive choice. Google TV integrates network television (cable TV or satellite TV) but the higher price tag and conflict with set-top box makers may slow adoption. Oh, and there’s that little problem with Google TV not offering any internet browser protection. Read more in Google TV’s Dark Side.
Regardless, both of the initial efforts from Apple and Google point to an immense battlefront, a war for the living room of epic proportions between two tech giants. Google TV, as it was with Android OS for smart phones, will have many manufacturing partners. Again, as it did with the Mac, with the iPod, the iPhone, Apple goes it alone with Apple TV.
What do you think? What’s missing from Google TV and Apple TV that will make it a must-have purchase for you? Add your perspective in the Comments section.