In the case of televisions, that fragmentation was made even worse by GOOG itself through the creation of the Google TV platform — a customized version of Android with features that lag current releases of the operating system.
The net result of fragmentation is hesitant developers and cautious hardware partners amid high potential for a poor user experience.
Last year, TechCrunch’s John Biggs wrote: “I feel like we’re watching Google TV roll by and off into a nearby ditch,” speculating that Google’s lack of new development in the platform signaled that “they’ve scrapped the project but don’t want to tell their partners.” It seems as though he was right.
While it risks taking a branding hit by doing so, GOOG appears to be on the verge of sunsetting Google TV and instead relaunching its TV efforts under the Android banner.
While this doesn’t prevent Android fragmentation altogether, it does free up Google from maintaining a separate platform, and it plays into Google’s goal of convergence between its operating systems. At the same time, it can proceed with initiatives like the popular Chromecast plug-in streaming device.
In fact, going the Chromecast route means GOOG can achieve its primary objective — driving ad revenue by having TV watchers use Google services such as its Chrome browser and YouTube — without having to convince TV or box manufacturers to adopt Google TV over their own platform. Consumers can plug in a Chromecast, regardless of what powers their television or whether it’s even a Smart TV in the first place, while Google controls the experience with no third-party customizations or waiting for a TV manufacturer to roll out upgrades.
And incorporating TV-friendly features in stock Android (as it’s reportedly doing with the upcoming 4.4 KitKat update) means TV manufacturers might be more tempted to adopt stock Android over their own “smart” systems.
A Research and Markets reports says the Internet-connected-TV market was at 115 million sets at the end of 2010 but is expected to hit 759 million by 2018. In the midst of this rapid growth, Apple is continuing to gain traction in the living room, Amazon (AMZN) is reportedly working on its own set-top box, and video game giants Sony and Microsoft (MSFT) are hoping to make their upcoming consoles the center of a connected living room.
Google would dearly love to be on the majority of those TVs, but it was being held back by Google TV and a poor user experience caused by Android fragmentation. The GoogleTV website is still live, but the device seems destined to be replaced by one hawking Android’s TV-friendly features and Chromecast.
As of this writing, Brad Moon did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.