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19 May 2010

The Google TV Story

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Vincent Dureau, who’s in charge of Google TV, is a lean, bony-faced man with a strong French accent; not too far off my own age, I’d say. With the announcement imminent, he’s been too busy to write; I'm reporting on my talk with him to give a feel for the thinking behind the project. You’ll notice an absence of quotation marks; Vincent’s half of the conversation is reconstructed from the combination of my memory and notes. I think it’s accurate in essence, but certainly not in detail; among other things I can’t write with a French accent.

On why Google TV is needed:

Even two years ago you would have said that telephones are mostly for making calls, maybe for email and texting. Today, we know that phones can actually do a whole lot more. In the same way, people say that TV is just for watching TV. But, like the phone can be used for more than making calls, we believe that TV can be used for more than just video. Also, there’s not enough shelf space for the stuff on TV; not even with online channel guides and your PVR access and your racks full of disks. The shelf space should be as big as the web.

On why developers should care:

They’ve always had access to the desktop. With mobile devices, they managed to get into your pocket. Google TV brings them into the living room, which is where people live.

On what’s going to be in the SDK:

First, we have to make sure that most mobile apps work on your TV, too. Second, we should offer TV-specific features, like being smart about screen sizes, changing channels, embedding video streams, mashing up live TV and what’s on the PVR and what’s on the Web.

On the Google TV project:

The project started 2½ years ago, with a vision of a walled garden of TV-optimized web services. But the landscape keeps shifting, particularly in the capabilities of mobile devices. The only solution big enough for the problem is to bring the whole web to your TV.

On which apps will come with the initial release of Google TV:

First of all, we run Chrome so we can ship both Android and web apps. Some will be pre-loaded; this is a moving target but we expect that Listen, Netflix, and Amazon Video On Demand will be on board.

On what truly great Google-TV apps he imagines:

That’s irrelevant; the reason we’re building the SDK is to enable all those smart people out there that don’t work for Google to do cool stuff with TV.

On how it works if there isn’t a partnership between Google TV and your TV provider:

It should be pretty good; the device comes with an IR blaster and knows the IR interfaces for the popular satellite and cable boxes. You really should be able to get an integrated experience.

On himself:

He’s the guy who pitched the project to Google’s executive team. He has been at Google for four years, and was hired to work on TV, originally ads. Working on TV is pretty much the only thing he’s ever done. Prior to Google, he worked on compression and DIRECTV.

On which TV he watches:

He doesn’t watch TV, he tests it. His popular test materials are Battlestar Galactica, Life on Discovery,, Al-Jazeera’s newscasts (they have reporters more places than any other network); and, these days, the NBA playoffs. He does a lot more on his TV than watch TV; he uses it to run Pandora and to hear the music through the nice speakers. Whenever he hears a tune he likes, he buys it right there & then from Amazon, which can get a little expensive.

On how to get involved:

You can begin building optimized web apps today. If you’re interested in building Android apps, visit our Google TV homepage to sign up for updates on when the SDK add-on will be available. And if you’re interested in helping out in a broader scope, check out our Google jobs site and apply for an engineering position.