Monthly Archives: August 2011

Logitech Revue review part 2: What’s next?

I have already posted a review of the Logitech Revue, one of the first implementations of the Google TV platform.  That review was mainly on the product overall, from an end-user perspective.  As an avid Android fan, I thought I would talk about the Revue from a developer standpoint.

I think the Google TV platform has a lot of potential.  Here are a few things that I would like to see:

More Intuitive Interface

Apple TV this is not.  Whereas the Apple TV interface is simple and intuitive, the Google TV main menu feels like a mess.

Also, in typical Android fashion, user consistentcy is a mess.  The back button sometimes takes you out of apps, and sometimes takes you to the prior page.  There is a button on the keyboard to watch live TV; however, the option to do so on the main menu is buried at the bottom of the “Apps” section.  The same shortcut to a Google TV-enabled website can appear in the bookmarks section, the most visited section, and the spotlight section; it’s unclear to a user where they should go to find this content.

Google could do a lot in the area of user interface to improve the device.  I’ve seen screenshots of the new Honeycomb build; so far, these really don’t inspire confidence in terms of improving the UI.

Development approach

In the current iteration of Google TV, there is one preferred method to implement applications – Google TV-optimized web sites.  Google has published developer guidelines to help web developers create their site for this environment.  However, this will change with the upcoming release of Google TV.  The new version will continue to support TV-optimized websites, but will also support the Android Market.  This means that Google TV users will be able to download and run Google TV Android applications from their device.  In general choice is good, but I think might be better if Google pointed developers toward one platform.

I don’t yet see the large advantages to Android apps in their current format.  Right now, the Android Apps on your TV lack touch support and occupy the full screen.  To me, this doesn’t seem highly compelling over existing web sites.  Android has powerful capabilities like content providers, intents, and service providers that have potential, but I don’t see great use cases for these features on the TV platform.  To make Android apps compelling, I think Google needs to provide:

Overlay Support

To really integrate TV and the internet, I think Google needs to enable some kind of app overlay on top of the existing TV stream.  That really fulfills the promise of watching your favorite TV show and seeing Twitter reactions on the same screen.  Google currently offers this by displaying the app with the TV show in a small picture-in-picture window in the corner.  This current option provides internet or TV access on a large screen; I am arguing for integrated internet and TV access on a large screen.  To really kick that idea into high gear, Google should create a:

Channel Sensor

I’d love to see a sensor that tells the system which channel the user is on and what show the user is watching.  This could enable a twitter app that will automatically pop open a stream on the current show’s twitter hash tag.  Or, imagine having an NBA season pass app that pops up league scores, stats and comments whenever you’re watching any NBA game.  Please, Google, make this happen.

Summary

While Google TV has a lot of promise, I would like Google to really customize and optimize the Android experience for the TV platform.  It feels like Google is trying to apply a lightly-customized Honeycomb build to the TV platform, and I feel like that’s the wrong approach.  Here’s to hoping that the TV platform takes Google’s strength in information organization, search, and developer talent and with the Android platform to create something novel and unique for consuming video content.

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The Logitech Revue review

I got just a Logitech Revue, which was the first implementation of Google TV platform.  I’ll spare you all the gory details, but here are the high’s and low’s of this device, particularly as it stands now, a few months after all of the tech-site reviews of the system.

Highs

Web Browser

Having the web browser on my TV is pretty awesome.  I posted to Facebook, Google Plus – this blog post was even written in the built-in Chrome browser (with full Flash support!).  Now this alone is not hugely different from just hooking up your computer monitor to your TV; however, a number of sites have optimized their experience for Google TV (like CNET, Cartoon Network and YouTube).  This experience can be a little jerky at times, but the idea shows a lot of promise.  I have found myself browsing these TV-optimized sites more than I would have imagined.  As a side note, one of the major reasons I got the revue was because of its HBO Go support; this is enabled through the web browser.  In practice, this works fine; however, in the future, I think I will prefer the app version.

Search

Google TV integrates search directly into the experience.  Instead of browsing for titles, you can search for shows or web content.  Pretty neat.  With the hundreds of channels available to cable and dish users these days, this seems like the logical way to go.  Google TV also offers a view of TV content organized by category (movies, sports, news, etc.).  Oddly enough, Google TV does not offer a view of TV content by channel.  To browse by channels or favorites, I had to go through by cable box.

By the way, I was skeptical of using a keyboard to navigate around my tv, but I’m becoming a believer.  The keyboard is really light, and search with a keyboard is a much better experience than using a remote.

Apps

There are only a handful of apps available for the Google TV, but hopefully that will change with the new Honeycomb UI.  However, the apps really showcase some of the cool possibilities of the platform.  For example, you can watch a show and see tweets about it in real-time.  You can also see NBA scores, stats, and standings while watching a game (this will be exciting during the actual NBA season).

Lows

Buggy and Slow

The Logitech Revue (and, I think, the Google TV system) are still a bit half-baked.  Our wireless connection flops around like a fresh-caught trout, and the Revue has frozen or rebooted on me a half-dozen times on the first day I had it.  This is kind of sad considering that the Revue has been out for a number of months already.  Hopefully, future updates will alleviate these issues although I think I’m out of luck until the next Google TV version is released.

In addition, the Revue slows down periodically, and I think it’s a bit underpowered for what the OS requires.  While I have vague hopes for better stability in the future, I think I’m stuck with the sluggish performance.    Oh well.

Better Streaming Support

It’s unfortunate that Google TV access is blocked for sites such as Hulu, NBC, CBS, etc.  I’d like to see these services embrace subscriber- or ad-supported internet access to shows and movies.  However, you do have access to services like Netflix, Amazon VOD, and HBO Go.  So screw network TV.

Partial Harmony Support

From reading the Logitech website, you would think you’re getting Google TV and a Harmony remote all in one.  Unfortunately you’re not.  The Revue offers partial Harmony support, which means that you can send some commands to your TV, cable box, and receiver.  In practice this works ok.  You have to turn on each on separately, but there’s a dedicated button for each component so this isn’t horrible.  When you change the channel it routes appropriately to the cable box and when you change the volume it routes to the receiver.  However, I would have liked the ability to add more devices (like an XBox or PS3) as well as true macro support (the Harmony’s killer feature).

Summary

Here’s the quick summary: at $400, the Revue was a buggy piece of junk, appropriate only for tech reviewers and early adopters.  At $100, this is a really nice tool.  For the same price, I believe the Apple TV and Roku fall short with their lack of partial Harmony support, a full web browser, apps or search.   However, if you are going to buy the Revue, I would suggest that you get powerline ethernet or an access point to prevent the wireless issues.

What Google’s acquisition might mean

Google announced that they are purchasing Motorola Mobility for about $12.5B dollars.  What could this announcement mean?

The patent wars end?

Google made no secret of the fact that it bought Motorola for patent protection.  Motorola has a large and comprehensive treasure chest of patents.   Will this protect Google against patent suits by Apple, Microsoft and Oracle?  Who knows.   The patent system in the US is screwed up beyond belief.   Motorola has a number of great patents in the mobile area; however, I don’t think the patents will protect against the specific patent violations mentioned in the Oracle suit.

Control of the Android ecosystem?

I think one observation that has been missed in the analysis is how much this improves Google’s control over the Android ecosystem.  Google has tried to push a number of changes through its mobile phone makers, with poor results:

  • Less Carrier Control: Google has been continually pushing against carriers to change the end user experience.  They have attempted to work with manufacturers to produce “pure” Android phones (the original Droid, Nexus One, and so on).  When the Nexus One debuted, Google attempted to build a new model of phone buying that bypassed carriers.  However, “pure” Android phones are still rare, and Google’s attempt to sell the Nexus One without carrier support fell flat.
  • Fragmentation:  Google puts out updates to their Android OS roughly twice a year, and most end users look forward to these updates.  However, end users typically end up actually getting the updates only several months after the update is publicized, due to carrier testing and manufacturer customizations.
  • Near Field Communication (NFC):  Early this year, Google released the Nexus S, one of the first phones with NFC support.  NFC support enables technology like pay by phone and “smart-tagging” signage or merchandise to trigger an action (such as opening a web site).  Although the technology is promising, no one else had produced a phone with NFC support enabled.

With the purchase of its own phone manufacturer, Google now has the ability to push these trends.  I look forward to more unlocked phones, “pure” Android phones, and more phones with direct pay capabilities using NFC.

Chicago as a first tier tech city?

Could this mean the rise of Chicago as a first-rate tech city?  I am not sure.  Motorola already has a significant presence in the Valley; it’s questionable what they will remain in the Chicago area.  And does Google even intend to build its own phones, or will it retain the patents and sell off the remains of the company?  There are a lot of unknowns here; nonetheless, the cachet of the Google name with a large presence in Chicago is bound to have some influence in the burgeoning Chicago tech scene.