Why Google will succeed where Microsoft failed

Back in 1997, Microsoft announced the acquisition of a company called WebTV. WebTV’s product was a set top box with a 100Mhz processor, 2MB RAM and 2MB ROM. Using a built in dial-up modem, subscribers could browse the web,  watch TV as they browsed the web and record programs on the hard disk. Despite, Microsoft’s massive marketing push, the device never gained much popularity. Google is attempting an internet connected set-top box of its own. In the recent Google IO meet, Google announced the Google TV in partnership with Intel, Sony and Logitech. Google will provide the OS (Android), Intel will supply the chips, Sony will build the box and Logitech will build the remote. Here’s why they may succeed where Microsoft failed.


In some ways, the WebTV was ahead of its times. Without Broadband speeds, online videos and IPTV weren’t really possible and email was the predominant application. The TV is a very family device and users didn’t want to check emails on the TV. YouTube, IPTV services, gaming and internet based movie rental/purchase are gaining popularity and are already driving the need to bring the internet connection to the TV.


Another problem with the WebTV was that conventional CRT TVs had extremely low resolution. Web content, which was primarily text based at the time, couldn’t be rendered nicely on a CRT TV. With the rising penetration of the LCD TV, reading text on an LCD is much more acceptable.


Google’s Android App store means that the Google TV would replace a lot of different boxes in your crowded living room. Using inexpensive Apps, ranging in price from free to a few dollars, you could use Google TV to stream/rent audio and movies from the Internet, display content stored on your Wifi connected Hard Disk and even replace your gaming consoles. Live feeds from Facebook and Twitter could be the ticker on the bottom of your TV screen. Beyond the multimedia applications, hardware developed to connect with Google TV could let you use the TV to monitor and control your home automation and surveillance systems or even an automatic vacuum cleaner.


Why would Google’s apps succeed where others have failed before? The answer lies in Google’s open source approach. The Google TV is not just one box built by Sony. Google’s open source approach means hundreds of companies could launch set top boxes of varying configurations. Potentially, the Satellite TV set top boxes and LCD TVs could start to use Android for their OS, allowing users to run Android Apps on their TVs. The open Android App environment means content in the form of multimedia and games could be developed and distributed by virtually anyone for a very large market. The open framework could spawn a market for other consumer electronics devices which use the set top box and TV as accessories to reuse processing and display hardware thus reducing costs.


What Google is launching goes beyond a single set top box to an entire eco-system and it could change the TV experience in much the same way as the Iphone changed the cellphone business.