Is Google TV doomed?

Google TV has an attractive set of capabilities, letting you watch video-on-demand, Web video, and surf the Web from your living room TV. But its complexity will keep it from growing beyond a niche product for enthusiasts.

Logitech this week introduced its Revue, a $299 set-top box running Google TV, providing access to Netflix, Amazon, Pandora, and YouTube, as well as video, photos, and music on your home network. Best of all, Google TV has a built-in, fully-functional Web browser, supporting Flash, so you can watch video and play Flash games embedded on Web pages, as well as surf the Web from your living room.

It looks pretty sweet. I want one. But I'm not the mainstream user. This thing is not going to be popular with the mainstream user. And its problems are general to other Google TV devices, Apple TV, Roku, and other set-top boxes. The problems will keep this product from being anything more than a niche. A "hobby," as Steve Jobs says.

These devices are complicated. They require the user to hook up an extra box to their TV, cable, and home network, and figure out the new user interface. Most people don't want to work that hard to watch TV. They just want to ... watch TV.

They watch TV to relax. Getting down on your hands and knees behind the TV and messing around with cables is not very relaxing.

Google TV might do better built in to the television set, as with the Sony Google TV models due next week. There, you avoid the problem of complicated hardware installation. But users will still have the new, complicated user interface to deal with. Engadget has a photo of the Sony Google TV controller, it looks like something James Bond would use to remote-control a helicopter. In the 70s. It's ugly and complicated. The Logitech Keyboard Controller (scroll down for picture) is less ghastly, but it's still a full-scale keyboard with built-in trackpad. You can get a Mini Controller suitable for thumb-typing; it's smaller, but just as complicated.

Once you have Google TV plugged in and configured, you need to figure out where to get content from. You end up juggling multiple sources: The video available from apps on the device itself, such as Netflix. Internet video on the Web. Google TV doesn't have its own DVR, so you'll still have that hanging around. And Google TV doesn't connect directly to cable, so you'll have to daisy-chain your cable box to the DVR and Google TV.

Don't think about cutting the cord, breaking your cable or dish contract, and just watching your favorite shows on the Internet. Many of your favorites aren't online. Hulu blocks Google TV.

Most people aren't going to bother with this, just as most people never set the clock on their VCRs. They're busy. They just want to watch TV. As with DVRs, Internet TV won't take off until it's offered standard by the cable TV companies.

Of course, I'm not most people. I'm going to rush out and get one right away.

Or, maybe not.

I bought an electronic indoor-outdoor thermometer last week and I still haven't hooked it up. I don't want to read the manual, install batteries, and screw the outdoor sensor into the deck. I'm busy. I just want to know what the temperature is.

Mitch Wagner

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is a freelance technology journalist and social media strategist.

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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