Apple TV or Google TV: the battle for the living room

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This week saw 2 interesting pieces of news: Apple TV pricing launched (again) and an official insight into Google TV‘s forthcoming services.

Google’s focus seems to be a mixture of content aggregation and content delivery, packaged with information services leveraged from the Internet. Its success depends crucially on whether or not we are prepared to merge our conventional viewing experience with our daily internet activity. This strategy will cut directly into current service providers pricing models which bundle access and content as a single package, much like the approach of Virgin Media and British Telecom in particular. This will force the network providers back down the path to offering only network access and reduce their ability to bundle in content based services.

Apple’s strategy on the other hand is services and hardware. A system which will complement your standard viewing experience by allowing you to access and enjoy your personal content and other content that you would have purchased from iTunes. This is a more straightforward strategy and is clearly looking to identify with how content is being consumed today. The emphasis with Apple TV is about creating a personal network of easily accessible personal and purchased content to be consumed under your control using devices manufactured by Apple.

Describing the 2 strategies in this way, you may think there is not a lot of cross over but they both fundamentally clash on a key technological issue that could greatly affect the success of one over the other and relates to how the home WiFi network can be used as a dedicated network for sharing or distributing content to other devices around the home. Google seems to be pointing towards DLNA as the basis for allowing different home devices such as the TV, the games console, the laptop, and the mobile phone to all use DLNA to easily connect with one another. Apple on the other hand, is very definitely not using DLNA preferring its own Airplay technology. Both technologies use your home WiFi network to control and distribute content between compatible devices so they fundamentally work in the same way. Importantly, these forms of local connectivity allow you to consume content in different ways using different devices which is important to both Apple’s and Google’s ambitions in your living room.

Although there is no clear endorsement of DLNA from Google, it is an open specification and would seem to fit Google’s need for a reliable service enabler that easily interoperates and shares content between different vendor specific devices e.g. a mobile phone manufactured by Motorola, or a TV set from Samsung, or home PC from Sony. These are all companies that currently have a stake-holding in Android so you would imagine they are firmly interested in the opportunity to cross sell home entertainment hardware that can run Google TV over a WiFi home network. A potential issue for Google is that DLNA is based on Microsoft’s technology since DLNA uses UPnP as it primary networking protocol and Microsoft also play a large and important role within the DLNA organisation which manages the certification of services that use DLNA. This may indeed not be an issue since  USB is now ubiquitous across all forms of smartphones, which was also invented by Microsoft, but you somehow get the impression the stakes are higher when it comes to home entertainment.

To what extent Google actually endorses DLNA as a complementary technology to Google TV remains to be seen but the fact remains that the battle for the living room is coming.

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