Why Google TV is Failing

When I first heard that Google was going to be releasing a product called Google TV, I was extremely unnerved. The set-top box market was, and is, not doing well. Thus far, not a single person has been able to crack the TV market with something truly revolutionary.

Other than offering a terrible user interface and experience, Google is faced with more problems. Peoples living rooms are already cluttered with various set-top boxes. Be it a PVR provided by their cable company, a TiVo or even Apple TV. For Google TV to succeed, they needed to get a few key important ingredients right:

  • It must have a fluid, easy-to-use interface
  • They must have good content deals in place
  • Netflix should be an app that is pre-installed
  • The design of the hardware has to be compact, and elegant.

Google has partners to develop the hardware. One example is Logitech, who is now regretting being involved with the Google TV project.

Logitech’s CEO, Guerrino De Luca:

To make the long story short, we thought we had invented [sliced] bread and we just made them. [We made a commitment to] just build a lot because we expected everybody to line up for Christmas and buy these boxes [at] $300 […] that was a big mistake.

Indeed a massive mistake that cost them 100 million dollars. I seriously question a companies management who decided this would be a great idea to peruse in the first place. At best, it was a gamble from the beginning. The pitfalls seemed obvious as well, being that Google TV, like many of their products, was an unfinished beta. You simply can’t make bets on an unfinished product.

For sake of argument though, in an alternative reality where Google TV was a more polished product, had the content and hardware been there, I’m not convinced even Logitech would have sold a ton of these devices. Google’s problem strikes me as simply a brand problem. Historically speaking, they have always released unfinished, half-baked products that had a ‘beta’ label affixed to it for years on end. The average consumer makes purchases based on emotional decisions. “What can do this product do for me? And how is it going to make my life better?” Taking Apple TV as an example — a far from perfect device and a ‘hobby’ product for Apple — sales have been good, but not nearly as good as the Macintosh, iPod, iPhone or iPad. That being said, people seem to love their Apple TVs. It comes pre-loaded with the Netflix app, and what content you can’t get from Netflix, you can probably rent or buy on iTunes.

Apple TV’s hardware is exquisitely designed and leaves but the smallest footprint in your home theatre. While the small footprint of the device itself is a huge benefit, if not a big selling point, what really helps is the brand attached to the product — that being Apple itself. For Google to sell a lot of Google TVs, they need to go even beyond just designing a great product. What Google needs to do, is something that can’t be fixed overnight. Building a brand that people trust — if not love — takes a certain kind of company culture, and of course time.

I don’t have confidence that this is going to get better any time soon, given that Google is a company whose primary avenue of revenue is pay-per-click advertising. To give credit where credit is due, it’s good to see the company focusing on better and more consistent design across their services (including Android OS). They have a long road to go though before they can really turn their brand around to something people truly trust, and love (for the masses) Will that ever happen? I don’t have the answer to that, so I’ll be watching and waiting like everyone else.