Switched On: Android's TV triple threat

Ross Rubin
R. Rubin|07.15.12

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Switched On: Android's TV triple threat

Each week Ross Rubin contributes Switched On, a column about consumer technology.

Just two years ago, Google TV paved a way for Android to enter the television via integrated sets, Blu-ray players, dedicated TV add-ons and pay TV set-top devices. For now, the product may almost be as much of a hobby for the purveyor of questionable eyewear as Apple TV is for Apple, Google's mobile OS competitor. But it's clear that the platform isn't all things to all couch potatoes; the last several weeks have seen the launch of two new, contrasting approaches to getting Android on the big screen in the home.

And then, of course, there is the competition that all smart A/V products face from the growing influence of tablets and smartphones in the living room that can "throw" apps and video up to the TV. Still, a look at the (now) three key Android-on-TV initiatives shows an uneven landscape in the mad race to educate consumers that have traditionally been unaware of the OS' big-screen potential.


The problem with smart TV, some say, is that people don't really want apps on their televisions, but the entire home console business serves as evidence to refute that. The basic business plan of Ouya seems to be, "Give away the razors, give away the blades and let a community develop their own way to shave." The small, $99 disc-less game console that broke the record for first-day funding and is poised to become the most-funded Kickstarter project requires developers to offer a free-to-play version of their games. It also provides a standard controller for overcoming the lack of practical touchscreen capability on the television, especially for certain game types.

The key question facing this would-be disruptor is whether the kinds of casual games that became popular on smartphones and which have become more compelling on tablets can compete for space, money and attention in the living room - not only against the triple-A titles from major console vendors, but from casual games springing up on integrated smart TV app decks.

Nexus Q

Ouya may be the anti-console, but the Nexus Q is the anti-Ouya. Like the marketplace flop that was the first Google TV add-on device, the Logitech Revue, the Q costs not only three times what Apple TV costs, but also three times what Ouya and the Google TV-powered Vizio Co-Star device demand. As Switched On discussed several weeks ago, the true nature of Q has yet to reveal itself, but at this point it may be more helpful to think of its value weighted more heavily to music than video. In following the tradition of other Nexus products, the Q is packed with advanced hardware, but its price tag will keep it from serving as the lead Trojan horse for Android in the living room.

Google TV

What do these new devices mean for Google's initial official TV foray? Despite the launch of two new devices from Sony and Vizio leading up to Google I/O and some floor space devoted to it at the conference, there was little attention paid to Google TV in I/O's keynotes, perhaps to allow more of the spotlight to shine on the Nexus Q. Having LG Electronics supporting Google TV could be a major win for the TV-centric platform, but LG is also hedging its bets by supporting a rival consortium with TD Vision (which owns the Philips brand) and which seems to have support from Sharp Electronics.

Still, despite having the Nexus Q and the Ouya as the new kids on the Android TV block, and perhaps as distractions, Google TV stills seems to be the company's best play for the television. It is the only one, for the time being, that has the potential to be implemented in high-volume devices such as Blu-ray players and, ultimately, televisions themselves. It is easy to see the product developing support for NFC pairing and media sharing as the Nexus Q implements it (and, vice versa -- we can imagine bringing Google TV support to Google's American-made sphere). And a potential bump in Android games deployment spurred on by the Ouya could only mean a richer potential selection of games available on Google TV.

Ross Rubin (@rossrubin) is executive director and principal analyst of the NPD Connected Intelligence service at The NPD Group. Views expressed in Switched On are his own.

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