Google is to challenge Apple and Microsoft with a Wi-Fi-based home entertainment system
Search engine giant Google continues to expand into new areas with the Wall Street Journal reporting that it is building a home entertainment system to let users stream music throughout the home without wires.
The news comes several months after Google unveiled a streaming music server that let users tap a CD against a device to scan the music into Google’s Music storage locker.
The experimental product, dubbed Project Tungsten at Google I/O last May, falls under the company’s Android @Home banner for powering home consumer electronics and eventually home appliances such as lights, thermostats, refrigerators and microwaves with the company’s Android operating system.
Google has asked the Federal Communications Commission permission to have 252 Google employees test the prototype device in Google’s hometown of Mountain View, Calif.; Los Angeles; Cambridge, Mass.; and New York City.
According to the patent application, which GigaOm discovered, users will connect their devices to home WiFi networks and use Bluetooth to connect to other home electronics equipment. The device is designed to test the throughput and stability of the home WiFi networks that will support the device.
The system will certainly leverage Google’s Music streaming service and work with Google TV, the company’s Web-based television service. These products could be controlled via Android smartphones and tablets.
However, while Google simply licenses the Android-based Google TV software to TV OEMs such as Sony and Vizio, Google will allegedly market and brand the home entertainment device under its own name. This is unusual for a company given to releasing Android under open source and letting OEMs build products.
Forrester Research analyst James McQuivey told eWEEK Google’s biggest challenge will be in explaining to people that whatever it wants to sell is a platform rather than a product. Such a device could get lost in the muddle of other home TV devices from Sonos, Roku and Logitech.
Yet if Google can sell Android as a single controlling platform for all home electronics rather than just a single consumer electronics device “they have a shot at defining a new category.”
Pundits opine that Google will fumble this project away because it has no experience building and marketing hardware products, let alone consumer electronics devices. Others argue Google will tap Motorola Mobility, which makes set-top boxes, for its hardware and marketing expertise.
Both points are valid and yet Google has other challenges. Microsoft’s Xbox 360 is a home entertainment gaming and streaming system.
The Apple Factor
Apple, already dominant in consumer electronics, is purportedly preparing to launch its own Web-based super TV system this year. Such a device would sync across Apple’s Macs, iPhones and iPads, all tethered by the company’s iCloud storage service. McQuivey noted:
Apple’s forthcoming TV won’t just be a TV, it has to be a home information and experience management platform. It may not even be designed to replace your living room TV [replacement cycles are too long there to get the kind of sales spike Apple will want], but it will definitely be designed to manage your whole life – all your media, your personal information, and eventually the full body of data that you generate each day, including how well you slept last night, how much you weigh today, and whether you’re fighting more with your spouse than before.
“That’s where all of this ends. Google knows it, Apple wants it, Microsoft might accidentally get there first, and Facebook is most likely to be the glue that connects people to it all. It’s the technology platform holy grail, of course, but you can’t sell it that way today. You have to sell it as a TV streaming device that happens to have an app platform.”
Google might have an advantage in addressing a larger market, something Android lends itself to naturally by remaining open source. Apple, however, will target existing Apple users who have their Macs, iPhones and iPads – and certainly the existing Apple TV users.
“Google has to strike now in order to signal to people that there will be a more open alternative, one in which you can buy from Samsung, Verizon, and even Amazon and have it all accrue to the same platform,” McQuivey said.
“Will they do it well? I’m not confident they will, but if they wait and try to follow quickly like they did with tablets, they might spend five years catching up.”