Before Google announced Android, many people thought Google was developing its own mobile phone. But the point of Android is to get other companies to build the phones and a new set of applications for them. Google wants to supply the underlying technology to make it happen, and finally bring the mobile world into the Web age. It should be obvious by now that Google is much happier when it is creating technology platforms—for mobile apps, for social apps, for advertising— than one-off consumer products. Why should it be any different when it comes to television? (And remember, Andy Rubin and others on Google’s Android team used to work at WebTV and TV software startup Moxi Digital, although Android is not officially part of Dureau’s group).
In any case, Google would not be the first to try this. Some of the hypothetical applications I describe above are already being developed for Microsoft’s IPTV set-top boxes, which runs Microsoft Mediaroom. Anyone can write an application for Mediaroom on the PC and easily make it work on an IPTV set-top box (or an Xbox or an HD-DVD drive, both of which come with Ethernet jacks). There are only about 50 or so third-party apps for Mediaroom right now, however, because making TV apps easier to build is not enough. Getting cable or satellite TV providers to put those apps on their set-top boxes is the bigger battle.
“Service providers are open to good rich apps on their network if they do emerge,” says Microsoft’s Barrett. Not surprisingly he does not think that an open-source, Android approach is the way to go. “Trying to make a level playing field,” he says, “really is not in the service provider’s interest. It is in Google’s. But if you just throw the doors open, the TV or the phone becomes unusable pretty quickly.” The same argument is why Apple is cautious about allowing third-party apps on the iPhone. You don’t want some random app crashing your cell phone or your TV. But that just means device makers or carriers need to certify that the apps are safe. The still-closed mobile world is moving in this direction despite these issues.
If you think Android and the Open Handset Alliance are interesting, check out this article form TechCrunch about how Google may soon be in the set top box market and by doing so will be have the ultimate platform to integrate television and advertising.
Here is an excerpt of this very well-written article: