Ina Fried

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Google TV Software Update Ready; New Hardware Postponed

Google announced today that it is finally done with a significant overhaul of its Google TV software. The update brings with it a number of new features, including support for Android apps and a makeover of the user interface.

Google had originally said that the software update would come this summer and that it would be quickly followed by new hardware. Today, the company said that would-be Google TV buyers will have to stick with the existing products from Sony and Logitech, or wait until early next year for second-generation products, which Google has said will come from Vizio and Samsung, among others.

“We think we’ve done right by taking a little more time to build a really strong platform,” Google TV head Mario Queiroz said in a telephone interview. Google first previewed the new look for its TV product at its I/O conference in May.

Google said the update will be made available first to Sony products starting on Sunday, and shortly after that to those with Logitech-based products.

Initial sales of Google TV were quite weak, with hardware partners forced to slash prices — particularly Logitech, which has been selling its Revue set-top box for $99 in an effort to move its excess inventory.

Queiroz said that Google sees the TV effort as a long-term one, and notes that the company has doubled the number of people working on the project (Queiroz refused to give any exact numbers on that)

The new version of Google TV is based on the Honeycomb version of Android, and can run some existing programs as well as a number of new apps specifically designed to work with the product. However, most Android apps won’t work, as they require features such as telephony or a touchscreen.

Queiroz said that of the hundreds of thousands of Android apps, there should be around 1,800 apps that will work with Google TV initially, and even most of those won’t be optimized for the TV. Google has been working with about 50 developers on the first TV-optimized apps, he said.

For its part, Google said it has improved the Chrome browser and YouTube apps to be more TV-friendly, and has added a movies and television app that makes it easier to find the content you want to watch, whether it is coming from your cable or satellite subscription, services like Amazon or Netflix, or from the broader Internet.

Another big shift is in how Google is positioning its TV product. After spooking Hollywood early on, the company is taking great pains to position Google TV as a complement to — rather than a replacement for — broadcast television.

“Our purpose is certainly not to duplicate content,” Queiroz said.

When Google TV came out, the major broadcasters blocked Google TV from accessing their content both directly and from Hulu. There is no expectation that will change with the update and Google is stressing that it doesn’t see the product as an option for would-be cord cutters.

Google is announcing some new content partnerships, though most are either already over-the-top services or minor broadcast presences. New partners include CNNMoney, Flixster, Fox Business, Amazon’s IMDB, Khan Academy, Motor Trend, NPR and The Wall Street Journal (which, like AllThingsD, is owned by Dow Jones).

While the TV industry shifted from three networks to hundreds with the advent of cable, Google is trying to pitch Google TV as the right product for a television universe that is expanding to millions of options.

“We think we are going through another shift,” Quieroz said.


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