Google TV, the Smart TV platform initiative of search engine giant Google (NSADAQ:GOOG), has had a notoriously disappointing history. Critics have long pointed to Apple‘s (NASDAQ:AAPL) set-top streaming box, the Apple TV, as a hobby that sells poorly, but the device does have a five-year history and its most recent iteration sold 1.4 million units in the last quarter.
In comparison, Google TV’s own set-top box, manufactured by partner Logitech (NASDAQ:LOGI), was in the hole after its 2010 release, with a Wall Street Journal report from 2011 showing returns of the hardware by dissatisfied customers were actually outpacing sales. The set-top box (called the Logitech Revue) would subsequently see its price slashed from $249 to $99 before being discontinued by year’s end. Meanwhile, Google TV partner Sony (NYSE:SNE) was reporting huge losses in its TV division, which includes the company’s Google TV-enabled sets.
One key way in which Google differentiated its set-top (or built-in) TV service from Apple’s was to offer the ability to download and run apps. This was a big step toward offering Smart TV capability for any television hooked up to a Google TV box. It was also a strategy that had been employed by Sony competitor Samsung (PNK:SSNLF), which offered its own Smart TVs and corresponding app store.
Generating app market interest
While we already knew that hardware sales weren’t meeting Google’s expectations, a report released by app-search specialist Xyologic on Feb. 13 offers a detailed view of Google’s success to date when it comes to adoption of Google TV apps. And it isn’t pretty. According to Xyologic, six apps that are preinstalled on Google TV devices account for 4.4 million of the 4.8 million installed apps making up the platform’s user base. Just 352,000 apps offered exclusively for Google TV have been downloaded by customers, with the largest—Redux for Google TV (an alternate video-browsing app)—pulling in just 76,000 installs since its October 2011 launch. There isn’t much money to be made for Google TV app developers.
By comparison, Samsung Apps is thriving. Ubergizmo reported in October 2011 that Samsung TV owners installed more than 10 million downloads of the more than 1,000 Samsung apps available. Customers are downloading apps for their Samsung Smart TVs at the rate of 50,000 every day.
The Samsung numbers show that if the experience is good, the right apps are available (really, is anyone clamoring for the ability to send tweets via their Google TV running a Twitter app?) and developers see an install base that’s large enough to warrant their time and effort, then a Smart TV platform is viable.
Google TV could still regroup, sign up more partners, and take off. Then again, Apple might swoop in and revamp its Apple TV (and/or iTV) to run apps and turn the living room into yet another front in the Apple vs. Samsung battle.
As of this writing, Brad Moon did not own a position in any of the stocks named here.