Google announces TV product, iTunes killer at conference

Internet giant Google has finally unveiled its official television set-top box, designed for users to access the internet and customised apps without the need for a separate computer.

The company also announced the introduction of a web-based service designed for users to download music from the Android market, a move some analysts are saying will square Google directly against Apple’s iTunes.

Google TV was announced overnight at the company’s I/O conference, an annual event for developers which showcases new products within the Google platform. It already announced a new app store for the Chrome browser yesterday.

The Google TV product is a set-top box designed to sit alongside existing technology, such as a digital video recorder. The gadget is a way to integrate the internet and television, with the company saying that “video should be consumed on the biggest, best, and brightest screen in your house, and that’s the TV”.

The announcement comes as Foxtel said yesterday it would begin to offer video services through Microsoft’s Xbox 360 video game consoles.

The Google TV box allows users to browse the internet through a Chrome browser, along with custom user-interface designs for pages like YouTube and Google Video.

But the main drawing card of the Google TV product is the search feature. If a user feels like watching a particular channel, such as ABC, they simply type their query into a Google-powered search box and a number of results are provided.

These results can include programs to be aired on television channels in the future, along with content on the internet from sites such as YouTube – just the same as a Google search would work on your computer.

“Google TV is a new experience for television that combines the TV that you already know with the freedom and power of the internet. With Google Chrome built in, you can access all of your favourite websites and easily move between television and the web,” the company said on its blog.

“This opens up your TV from a few hundred channels to millions of channels of entertainment across TV and the web. Your television is also no longer confined to showing just video. With the entire internet in your living room, your TV becomes more than a TV — it can be a photo slideshow viewer, a gaming console, a music player and much more.”

The company says Google users already type search queries to find new content, and television shouldn’t work any differently.

“If you’d rather browse than search, you can use your standard program guide, your DVR or the Google TV home screen, which provides quick access to all of your favourite entertainment so you’re always within reach of the content you love most.”

But the introduction of Google TV is another way for the company to deliver advertisements, and has already said it is figuring out a way to provide ads to customers. The product could potentially reach hundreds of millions of customers.

Additionally, the company announced the introduction of a software developer’s kit. Developers will be able to create customised apps for the Google TV platform, so users can access content however they like.

Google used as an example, a type of application used to detect what a user watches on their television, and then makes recommendations based on that content.

The device will be powered by the Android operating system, so any app on the Android Market which doesn’t require phone hardware can run on the device. A dedicated Android Market for Google TV will launch early next year.

Specifications for the device are limited, and no pricing is available. Additionally, no information is available as to whether the product will actually be launched outside of Australia. But so far, the company says the boxes will contain WiFi, HDMI capability, an Intel processor and will ship with a keyboard.

While some users are disappointed that the gadget doesn’t contain hardware of its own to record television, the majority have praised the device as a step forward in the way users browse the internet.

But in one of the more interesting announcements of the day, Google announced the introduction of a new section of the Android Market – music.

Details were scarce, but the company said the new sub-section of the market works through the web, not a piece of software, and users will be able to purchase music from the site onto their smartphones.

Pricing details weren’t announced, neither were details about whether the service is actually Google-based or handled by a subsidiary. But already, analysts are labelling the move as an attempt to take on Apple’s iTunes.

Such a task would be monumental. iTunes is the dominant market force in digital music retailing, controlling about 70% of digital music sales in the US and about 25% of the country’s overall music market.

Another addition to Google’s vast software catalogue was announced in the form of an acquisition. The company announced that as part of the Android 2.2 software, users will be able to stream audio from a home media collection through the Simplify app.

This essentially eradicates the problem of having large amounts of storage capacity on a phone. Instead, users can access their library wherever they go.

Analysts have predicted Apple will launch a similar version of the Simplify for its iTunes software next month, following the acquisition of web-based streaming music service LaLa last year.


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