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Lights, Camera, Android: Is Google TV Getting Ready for a Close Up?

Rumors of a Google TV appliance continues to blur the lines of platform and market -- and perhaps brings App developers yet another opportunity to sell their 'wares

Market changes

Regardless of our personal tastes, everyone with a pulse enjoys entertainment of one kind or another.

When I was growing up that looked like a movie at the mall, a subscription to HBO, or better yet some Atari or Intellivision games.

Today, in our increasingly connected world, entertainment follows us wherever we go with our mobile devices, or arrives on demand via some digital wizardry in the living room.

In the matter of a few years, “App Stores” have gone from an idea to a culture- and economy-changer. Things have changed so quickly that even pioneer “app stores” such as Handango have been forced to merge and jump through hoops to survive the shifting tides in this young market.

The only consistent thing here is change.

As our culture loses its patience for anything slow or old, our entertainment distribution mechanisms will continue to mature — and hopefully for the better — though that can be debated.

Waiting is not popular — we want everything “Now”. As a reflection of this, Sprint even calls themselves the “Now Network”. This kind of feels like the convergence of fast-food and entertainment.

Our expectations for application quality trends down when applications are disposable. Just what can you expect from an application that costs 99 cents? Do we really expect live help and support? Support via email is becoming the norm — even giant Google does virtually everything via email.

And what about movies? Well, assuming they are paid for and not illegally traded and downloaded… movies are coming down over digital cable, satellite, and of all places, even the mail box via game-changer NetFlix.

Both convenience and price have driven this revolution in how we consume news and entertainment.

Financial impact

These changes in media distribution and consumption have had not a small impact financially.

If you doubt it, check out your local Blockbuster or Hollywood video stores. The two near my home are closing. Everything is for sale — even the fixtures. Who wants an 20 foot DVD rack anyway? Maybe the local library can use it.

There is some money in selling devices, but the focus is on selling content.

Apple recently announced, and is soon to release, their iPad device — further showing Apple’s hand as they grow their content-based sales strategy. Apple’s approach has been to own the complete stack in their “walled garden”, paved with too-sexy-for-you devices.

Not to be outdone by the Cupertino gang, Google appears to be furthering their presence in the television and media market — likely riding its horse named Android. But they are not alone as they are apparently partnering in some fashion with Intel and Sony. Intel wants to sell chips and presumably Sony is going to integrate the technology into the finished product.

So what?

Bridging the television and Internet markets is not new — there have been set-top boxes with wireless keyboards and Internet-searching game consoles for years. Netflix not only sends DVDs through the mail but they distribute content to any number of devices already in your home.

YouTube and many knock-off sites are great for amateur and marketing messages alike. Hulu.com and Boxee.tv have great selections of popular shows and movies. In fact, Boxee is partnering with D-Link on an interesting set-top box of their own that doesn’t look too shabby.

So just what is Google’s angle and why would an Android developer care?

If in fact their set-top box is based on Android and it is not just a specialized media device, we may see applications coming to the “TV” market. Do we really need these? There are many opinions on that, for sure. Opinions are plentiful and cheap. Unless you are talking to an attorney, then they are just plentiful.

Android continues to make significant strides in the growing smartphone market — and with it application developers can expect increased distribution — and competition.

Giving application developers an opportunity to sell their apps to the “couch potato” market could certainly broaden the horizon for applications. This could look like more interactive entertainment such as choose your own adventure movies or “solve this puzzle to open this door” experiences.

Or think about “in-app” purchasing brought to entertainment. Cheat codes have long been available for trade and purchase for the gaming world; perhaps there is a market for this in the TV market as well where you could purchase a different ending to a story? I don’t know — and neither does anyone else know for sure as this stuff is all market-driven.

That is what is great about the app-preneur age in which we live — if you can create a useful application, some people will buy it from you. So now there is yet another horizon open to developers — which brings us to the other reason why Google may be uniquely positioned to make this happen.

While Google was not the first- nor are they the only player in the online advertising game, they have certainly done a great job of making advertising accessible. And presumably this advertising driven distribution can be the “carrier wave” for applications to ride. This may look like targeted apps based on the media consumption — action games shown to people watching action movies, recipe apps for people watching Martha Stewart, etc.

In case you were not aware of what Google is already doing with TV — in addition to online advertising, they also enable television ad campaign management through AdWords.

If it moves on the Internet, Google attempts to track it, serve it, own it, filter it, and sometimes even sponsor it. They are becoming a nation-state themselves — with all of the power and responsibility that comes with it. If you doubt that then look at how they are received by nations such as China. When was the last time your company was targeted by a nation?

Personally, I like their technology and sometimes their innovation, but the concentration of power and information makes me a bit leery. Perhaps with a tinfoil hat-in-hand I will, along with many other mobile developers, be on the look out for this offering of theirs to come to market and potentially build an application or two for the Potato-Nation.

And I don’t expect Apple to ignore this either — they have long had their Apple TV product. While the Apple TV has not enjoyed the success that the iPhone and iPod lines have had the market continues to mature and perhaps they have some kind of ApplePie baking that will make this Internet/TV market place heat up even more.

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