After months of speculation, Apple CEO Steve Jobs finally revealed the new and improved Apple TV today. It has a lot going for it, including a low $99 price, redesigned hardware, and access to streaming media from the iTunes store.
At the same time, I can’t help but be disappointed — an opinion shared by Forrester analyst James McQuivey. Instead of being a revolutionary upgrade, the new Apple TV is just a smaller and cheaper iteration of what Apple has done before. Meanwhile, Google announced its Google TV service earlier this year, which will bring many of the Apple TV’s additions (Netflix, Pandora), alongside full access to the web on your TV, the ability to subscribe to audio and video podcasts, and more.
After Apple’s announcement today, I’m still far more excited for Google TV.
Google’s aim isn’t just to offer another device that connects to your TV to deliver media. Rather, it’s going for a full-scale redefinition of the way we watch TV. Instead of scrolling through hundreds of channels with a clunky channel guide, you can use Google TV’s search to find content from live TV, your DVR, or web video instantly. Instead of waiting for Apple to include access to the hottest new web video site on Apple TV, you can simply browse to the site and view the video with Google TV’s web browser, which also has full Adobe Flash support.
And instead of hoping that Apple brings apps to the Apple TV, you can get access to the Android Market right on Google TV — which could conceivably allow a video streaming service like Boxee to find a home on Google’s platform.
Google is working with TV manufacturers and cable/satellite providers to integrate the service into TVs and set-top boxes, which could help put an end to ugly TV programming guides and other terrible user interfaces forced upon couch potatoes. This is the key to Google’s plan: Instead of going out and buying a separate device, users will inevitably get access to Google TV by default through their cable/satellite provider, or when they purchase a new TV. For those of us who want it right away, Google is working together with Logitech for a Google TV set-top box called the Revue.
Strangely enough, when it comes to this particular battle, Apple has the distinct price advantage. Many users wouldn’t think twice about spending $99 for the Apple TV experience — particularly if they don’t have any other way to get Netflix on their televisions. The Logitech Revue, meanwhile, doesn’t have a set price yet, but we can expect it to be between $200 and $300. Its internals are significantly more complex, whereas the new Apple TV is a stripped down device running the same mobile hardware as the iPhone 4.
Apple’s price lead won’t last forever, though — you can bet that by next year, there will be a Google TV box around or under $99 as well. And if all goes according to plan, Google TV isn’t something many customers should have to worry about buying anyway — it will be a part of their normal TV experience by default.
Apple will certainly sell truckloads of Apple TVs this holiday season, and probably for some time next year as well. But in the grand scheme of things, it’s Google TV that will significantly affect the shape of TV watching in the future. Apple could update the Apple TV to support apps, but even then it’s still locked down to a single box that users will have to buy.
Meanwhile, Google TV will have the same advantage as Google’s Android mobile operating system — it will be everywhere, making it unstoppable.
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