Dear Google: The future of the living room is integrated

If there’s one thing you have to admire Google for, it’s that when the company does something, it usually goes big. Whether it’s search, mobile (Android), social networking (Google+) or TV (Google TV), there are no half measures in the lot.

But when it comes to Google TV, you have to wonder if Google went too big too soon.

Compared to the playbooks of Apple and Roku, it would seem so. Devices from those two companies had a more modest intention, which was to gradually become the key user interface for over-the-top entertainment, slowly growing more essential as consumers increased their consumption of Internet-delivered content. Google TV, on the other hand, wanted it all from the start: It essentially aimed to be the key interface for all TV entertainment right away. It was, as Michael Gartenberg has aptly stated, aiming for input one out of the gate.

Was Google completely wrong to try to own the TV interface? No. In fact, I think that’s where Google should be aiming . . . eventually. As I write in my weekly update at GigaOM Pro (subscription required), the future of the living room interface, and of devices themselves, is one where consumers won’t be able to tell whether content is delivered through a pay-TV network or over the top. In time all content will be managed through one interface and one remote.

The hardware itself will also become more integrated, meaning fewer external boxes. But that will take a long time, as the installed base of HDTVs is very big and will take years to turn over. Logitech, who provided the hardware for Google TV, saw the power of Google’s vision, but it didn’t realize that going so big so early in the game was essentially a high-stakes gamble. That gamble didn’t pay off, and Logitech, not Google, took the biggest hit. Hardware miscues are infinitely more costly than software ones from a product perspective, as evidence by the $34 million charge the company just took.

Google, on the other hand, will be fine, as it can refashion its platform and iterate, much like it has done with Android. The company needs to think about the long game, understanding that the market wasn’t ready for the winner-take-all strategy with its disappointing 1.0 edition. It needs to focus on working with hardware partners on highly integrated — but perhaps more simplified — efforts (like Apple TV) for this next go-around (and by simplified, we don’t mean QWERTY keyboards as the primary remote). Google also needs to lock down more over-the-top content — perhaps the arrival of Android Market (and content-as-apps) will do so — because clearly the shelves on the first go-around were a bit bare.

Recent announcements at Google I/O show that Google has at least learned some lessons from this first attempt and that it is on the path to simplification, which is good. The only question is, Next time around, will Google be able to find hardware partners who are as eager for its big-play mentality as they were in the first round?

For more of my thoughts on Google TV and the future of living room integration, see my weekly update at GigaOM Pro (subscription required).

Image courtesy of flickr user Jason Edward Scott Bain