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TV-internet hybrid takes step forward



Sony CEO Howard Stringer stands near a unit displaying Google TV in San Francisco

Sony CEO Howard Stringer stands near a unit displaying Google TV in San Francisco

(Keystone)

In the near future, when Joe Bloggs watches the game, updates his Twitter feed and reads the news on the same television, he may have Swiss technology in his hands.

The dream of linking the internet and television was given another boost last week when internet giant Google announced its newest brainchild, Google TV, a plan – although not the first – to combine the two technologies.

The company said it was joining up with big-name tech players including Switzerland’s Logitech, which manufactures peripherals such as keyboards and mice, as well as with Sony and chip-maker Intel.

Google hopes to succeed where competitors Microsoft and Apple have stumbled. Neither MSN-TV nor Apple TV has generated much interest among consumers, although according to Swiss experts, Google’s chances of success are high.

The promise of Google TV is to seamlessly combine traditional television watching with browsing Web content – something people are doing more and more already.

"Technically, the three initiatives are probably very similar, although for me Google seems to have a well-established streaming platform with YouTube, and its advertising-oriented business model is significantly better," said Jürg Gutknecht, a professor at the Federal Institute of Technology Zurich (ETHZ). "It is a great opportunity for Logitech."

Easy to merge

Computers and television are still two separate worlds although Gutknecht told swissinfo.ch that from a technical point of view merging the two technologies is relatively simple.

The success of Google TV, he argues, hangs not only on the "availability of appropriate equipment" but also on a paradigm shift in the user’s mind on how the two technologies ought to interact.

“But I think YouTube may act as a bridge between the two worlds,” Gutknecht said. “From television to online video it is actually only a small step.”

In the end, Google is of course looking to make money. In the same way advertising programmes revolutionised how companies marketed themselves online, Google TV opens the market for personalised advertisements.

Google TV is Google's second product to link strongly with hardware manufacturers – its Android operating system for smartphones already appears on a range of brands.

Logitech will supply a set-top box – a small computer – and a bevy of keyboards and remote controls for Google TV. Some new high-definition televisions from Sony will also include Google TV.

No fear

“We need a mass market with affordable, high-quality equipment in order to operate,” Logitech’s founder, Daniel Borel, told a trade newspaper. The exact price is still unclear.

Borel expects success, but only after customers first get their feet wet. He compares Google TV with the iPhone, which took three years to reach its current level of popularity. "There are signs that we can achieve a similar success in television," Borel said.

Logitech currently makes no specific references to the price of set-top boxes and the company told swissinfo.ch the equipment would be available “in the autumn in the US and in Europe in 2011”.

What is clear is that Logitech will not remain the only supplier: Google’s source codes are open to other developers. If Google TV succeeds, the Swiss company will have competition.

"We have already demonstrated in the highly competitive market for computer accessories that we need not fear competition," Borel said.

Andreas Keiser, swissinfo.ch (Adapted from German by Justin Häne)

Google TV

Google TV was announced officially on May 20.

It runs on the Android operating system, the same platform used on smartphones.

Google says its system allows users to access broadcast television programmes, previously recorded shows and online content under one roof, using an interface similar to the kind offered currently by cable and satellite providers.

It will provide support for services including YouTube, Netflix and Twitter.

Google TV allows users to seamlessly shift between broadcast television programmes, recordings to a hard drive and online videos.

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