Wait, What? No Update For Google TV?

Heading into Google I/O, there was one thing that confused me: Sony and Vizio announced new Google TV products a few days before the annual developer conference. Which I thought was pretty silly, because why would anyone release new hardware days before Google announces new software capabilities at the conference? And then the conference happened, and the answer became clear: Because there is no new software for Google TV.

A representative for Google says that its focus at this year’s conference is on the devices that are coming out and already in stores, not any update to the platform. That includes Sony’s Internet Player with Google TV, which is available for pre-sale now and will retail for $199, and Vizio’s Co-Star streaming box, which costs $99 and will go on pre-sale next month. There’s also LG’s series of Smart TVs, which run the Google TV operating system and went on sale in May.

That said, it’s been a tough few years for Google TV partners. While Sony introduced new hardware running Google TV, the addition of a media streaming box is a bit of a step back from its initial plans to build integrated smart TVs with the OS built in. Logitech, which was also a Google TV launch partner two years ago, was burnt badly by lack of sales for its streaming box, which initially went on sale for $299. And while I haven’t seen anything official on launch partner Best Buy backing off from the Google TV initiative, try finding any Google TV products on bestbuy.com or in stores.

So what happens next? Well, existing (and future) Google TV devices will have support for Google Play, as was just announced in a post on the Google TV blog site. That will let users purchase movies and TV shows, while also enabling in-app payments on those devices. And it’s also announcing new APIs that will help users build integrated second-screen apps between its Android mobile devices and Google TVs.

For the most part, though, Google TV appears to be in a bit of a holding pattern, stuck with last year’s software while trying to get a bit of consumer traction. The Vizio device is priced at a third of what the Logitech Revue cost when it launched two years ago, and roughly in-line with Apple TV and Roku devices with similar capabilities. Based on anecdotal evidence, $99 seems to be the limit for what consumers will pay for these devices, so the new Google TV stuff is at least competitive.

But that’s all happening at the same time that others are getting more aggressive in their pursuit of the digital living room. Perennial rumors about Apple releasing a TV seems like they might finally come true over the next year. And Microsoft is very quickly ramping up the content available through Xbox Live, while also improving connectivity between the Xbox platform and mobile devices running its Windows Phone OS.

Furthermore, Google TV could also face some internal competition. Google’s Nexus Q largely takes away the need for a whole separate hardware device — or software embedded on OEM hardware — to take part in the Android ecosystem for video.

At $299, the Nexus Q is still a luxury item that’s unlikely to receive mass consumer adoption. However, just the existence of the device shows that Google might not need consumer electronics partners to gain access to the TV. With the Nexus Q, or some similar device it could manufacture itself (hopefully less expensively), Google could theoretically use its large install base of Android users as its wedge into that space, no OEMs required.

If that happens, will Google continue to struggle with its existing TV operating system, knowing full-well how difficult it is to get OEMs on board and convince consumers to buy yet another box to hook up to their TVs? I dunno, I mean, would you?