Google is planning to acquire Motorola Mobility, which is a deal about patents and Android, but also one to raise questions on quite a few existing product lines. What will happen with Moto Droids and the Google Nexus line? Where do Android tablets go from here? Is MOTOBlur dead? (my answers: bye bye Nexus, tbd, and yes). The other interesting area is Google TV, particularly interesting because the Motorola Mobility dept is the one that makes the set-top boxes (which are, next to refrigerators, one of the least likely products to be mobile in my house, but maybe that’s just me).
I’ve seen tons of speculation this week about what the deal means, as it pertains to Google TV, and have batched together some of the perspectives that are floating around. Most common theme: now that Google owns the STB business, they can just sprinkle Android into all the next-gen cable boxes…
That gives Google an attractive footprint to leverage on a number of different fronts within the digital home, perhaps with a Trojan Horse strategy of pushing Android-based middleware out to shore up its lacklustre connected TV strategy.
Source: With Motorola, Google gains a big TV strategy | News | Rapid TV News http://www.rapidtvnews.com/index.php/2011081514335/with-motorola-google-gains-a-big-tv-strategy.html#ixzz1VEtbiUZe
Also surmised by Apple Insider, Robert Scoble, CNET, Business Insider, NewTeeVee, and Lost Remote (and others). Here’s the thing, this isn’t even a topic/issue/option in play, at all. It’s not exactly like Motorola’s been unable to acquire operating systems to power their set tops, and could easily have chosen Google TV prior to now. Further, there’s simply no such thing as “sneaking” technology into the cable infrastructure, not even a tiny bit. We’ve seen (and I’ve worked for) many companies try to accomplish some set of these tasks, and not one shred of success. Why? Because the cable industry commissions the hardware and features they want, and not the other way around.
Another widely spread philosophy is that the only reason Google TV hasn’t caught on yet is due to not having had the right chance/opportunity:
“Google TV has not caught on yet,” wrote AOL journalist Saul Hansell on his personal blog. “This could be the wedge to get it in millions of living rooms.”
Shared feelings from Zatz Not Funny, Lost Remote, NewTeeVee, and more, but not by myself (nor my friend Dan Frommer, though he’s much nicer about it than I would’ve been). Google TV hasn’t caught on with consumers because it’s the wrong value proposition for consumers, period. In my ten-plus years of building “connected TV” products, the thing I’ve learned is that the more interaction you throw on the screen, the less you engage and benefit your users. While there are moments for “lean-forward” activities, they are fleeting. Google TV is built on the opposite premise.
One last comment that I’ve seen making the rounds was that Google just gained a bunch of knowhow regarding building boxes. This doesn’t much pass the sniff test either, as other than Apple, everybody builds boxes the same, and there’s very little secret sauce here. If anything, they should consider offloading all hardware production that still gets done internally or dive in deep in fully integrated software/hardware solutions. More on that in a bit.
So that’s enough about everybody else’s theories, time for a few of my own.
- The acquisition was entirely about the patent portfolio, the synergy (or not) between Google TV (G-TV) and Motorola’s STB division (M-STB) is positive, but was coincidental.
- Google must demonstrate to current M-STB customers that they will not disband nor change the status quo there in the short term (let’s call it 2-5 years). If this doesn’t happen quickly, we could see an exodus to the numerous viable competitors.
- Google would be better off moving G-TV inside M-STB than vice versa. M-STB has the requisite business practices savvy for dealing with the cable industry, which is significantly more vital to longevity than any software platform. In fact, gaining this type of business experience is quite a boon for Google, as its an industry they have historically (dating back pre-YouTube days) not well-understood.
- The other massive obstacle that seems underreported is the complete lack of fit between M-STB hardware platforms and G-TV software architecture needs. One of them will need a rewrite, and that’s costly.
- Without a major improvement to the platform itself, this acquisition does not change G-TV’s fate. No cable company on the planet is simply going to allow technology into their boxes (yes, they buy em, they rent em to customers) without a) control and b) a clear path to revenue/profits. Granted, there are indications those profits could come, but not with the current platform.
Ultimately, I think this is a fascinating topic. The nuance of industries involved, the hugeness of capital in play, and the clearly disruptive horizon for the TV business is more exciting than virtually anything I can think of.
Honestly, I’d rather see google just sell off the LOW MARGIN hardware business and get back to the business of making money in advertising, and moving to MOBILE as the OS developer and provider. As a cash rich tech company, this move only makes sense from an ACCESS TO CASH standpoint, and not from a “get into the handset business” At this point, google could just SELL the HW business to HTC, SAMSUNG, TIVO, all of the above for about 5-8 Billion total, LEND them the money at about 375bps, and get a nice little return on cash and just KEEP the patents – which were clearly the target of this move.
The reason there isn’t bette adoption of the google TV product (and trust me, i’ve used it since the beginning) is that it just DOESN’T work very well. It crashes, it’s slow, it actually gets BETWEEN you and YOUR TV in an inelegant way – cumbersome. There is no remote (other than using ones android or maybe iphone now) there is just the keyboard and that is a bit cumbersome. Personally, I think a product like boxee (note to readers the OP and owner of this blog I THINK has some relationship with boxee so fair warning) fits better into the tv/media center ecosystem. I LOVE being able to pull up info ad-hoc about STUFF, maybe related to the show, maybe related to something else but honestly, my IPAD 2 does it a lot faster with more detail with more EASE and doesn’t interfere with anyone else watching the show – now relegated to anywhere from 10%-30% of the screen real estate!
While several years ago the idea/concept of truly integrated TV was quite appealing, at this point with the table introduction i’m happier with that solution. Honestly, if TIVO could get their act together and make access to alternative media universal across content provider and site (like comcast xfinity and all the online content sites like ABC, FOX, CBS, Hulu and integrate that into what I have ON THE DVR as well, this would go a long way to providing the integrated CONTENT experience that I want.
The niche you didn’t consider is a cablecard box like Tivo or Moxi. I have a Moxi and love it, but it comes up short on the internet side. It doesn’t have a decent browser and the other internet services are very limited. If Googorola is smart the will come up with a cablecard box that has full Chromebook style computer support along with the usual cable TV support. Such a box will be a niche product. The great bulk of people subscribing to cable services are not interested in having a computer on their TV, and this, together with a premature release of a flawed operating system, is the main reason for Google TV’s lack of market penetration.
Cablecard services are mandated by the government, and aren’t likely to disappear anytime soon.
I agree with your conclusion that the cable companies will never buy boxes from Googorola that they don’t have complete control over.