Thursday, October 07, 2010

Apple TV vs. Google TV: A clear choice for consumers

Now that Apple TVs are showing up in stores (and are being snapped up by customers), and Logitech has set a ship date and price for its Google TV set-top box, consumers will have a clear choice between the companies' fundamentally different approaches to user interaction.

Apple TV takes over the living room screen while you're looking for content, but once you press "play", it gets out of the way, and you watch television as you always have. However, it doesn't interact in any way with your existing cable, satellite or IPTV set-top box, and your existing video signal doesn't pass through the Apple TV box.

Google TV, on the other hand, turns television into a content source for the Internet, and turns your big-screen television into an oversized Internet browser. Your existing video signal passes through the Google TV box. It overlays a search bar and search results on live television. It puts web pages on the television screen, with the live television image as a small "picture-in-picture" overlay.  If you're a Dish Network subscriber, Google TV takes over the electronic program guide functions as well.

The fundamental question for consumers is: Do you want to browse the Internet on your living room television? If you do, Google TV is the way to go. Or, do you want to watch television on your television and simultaneously browse the Internet through a tablet or laptop? If so, Apple TV should be your choice. The "wild card" in all this is the fact that Apple TV runs iOS and could run third-party apps in the future. This would dramatically increase the functionality of Apple TV, although it would still be a separate content source, not a television pass-through device.

Many people believe that Apple's long-term game plan is to make much of the content that's currently available through cable, satellite and IPTV set-top boxes available through Apple TV, thus competing directly with the existing service providers. If that happens, Google TV's ability to pass through video from existing set-top boxes would no longer be an advantage.

As a practical matter, I think that the price difference between Apple TV and Google TV, and Apple TV's inherent ease of use, will be the most important factors driving sales for the holiday shopping season. Apple TV is $99 complete, while Logitech's Revue running Google TV will be $299.99 (Dish Network subscribers can buy it for $179). The Revue comes with an ugly QWERTY keyboard as its remote control; a slightly more elegant optional remote control can be purchased for $129.00, and an HD video camera for webcasting and videoconferencing will cost $149.99. (Sony's new remote control for its Google TV implementation looks like it was designed by the same team that did the Pontiac Aztek.)

My suspicion is that in-store demos of Google TV are going to go "off the rails" as soon as people pick up the keyboard and try to use the TV as a web browser. Apple TV is point-and-click simple, but when consumers realize that they have to type in order to use Google TV, interest is going to drop very quickly. I could be wrong, but I think that Apple TV will win the battle, at least this holiday season.
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