With a facelift and Android apps, Google TV may finally live up to its potential

A year after Google TV’s middling launch, Google is finally ready to take another stab at its ambitious smart TV platform.

The company announced today that the long-awaited GTV update, which brings with it a revamped interface, Android apps, and more, will start to roll out next week.

I was a bigger fan than most of Google TV — I’m actually still using it daily — but the platform’s problems have become increasingly grating over the last year. It’s slow, the interface is ugly and hard to use at times, and it has a surprisingly small number of available apps (especially compared to other TV platforms from Samsung, Vizio, and others). The lack of Hulu support also burns, especially since Hulu Plus apps are available on the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and elsewhere.

Still, I’m a believer in Google TV’s potential to reshape the way we watch television. With this latest update, GTV’s biggest one yet, it looks like my hopes for the platform are one step closer to reality.

The update brings Android 3.1 Honeycomb to Google TV (although by this point, Android 4.0 is all the rage), which alone should make the platform faster and more stable. GTV will also finally get access to the Android Market — though Google says apps that require touchscreens, GPS, and telephone access won’t show up. That means there will be a small number of apps available at the start (Google says over 50 developers have apps ready to go), but it’s still an improvement over the the current handful of apps on GTV. One of the new apps is AOL HD, which is made up of HD content from AOL sites like Engadget and the Huffington Post.

Google TV’s interface is now much smoother and less intrusive than its first iteration. The home screen is now customizable and relies on icons, instead of archaic text menus. There’s also a new “TV and Movies” app that makes it easy to find content across cable or satellite, Netflix, YouTube, Amazon, and other sources. It also takes advantage of Google TV’s recommendations engine to suggest new content.

The YouTube experience on Google TV also appears to be vastly improved. Google unveiled its gorgeous HTML5-powered YouTube Leanback interface last year, but it was always a bit slow on Google TV. The company says it now has a YouTube app built specifically for GTV, which should be faster to navigate and should better handle high-definition videos.

The Google TV update will begin to roll out to Sony GTV televisions and its Internet TV Blu-ray player next week, while the Logitech Revue box will receive it later. The company also hinted that we’ll see even more updates over the next few months, as well as new devices sporting better hardware.

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