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Can Google TV’s Latest Update Save the Platform?

Today, the next generation of the Google TV platform was announced. The update brings Android 3.1 (Honeycomb) to Google TV devices and will include a new user interface, improved search functionality and a selection of TV-compatible Android apps.

By revamping the UI, Google addresses one of the biggest complaints consumers initially had about the service, which was met with an underwhelming response when it launched last year. Another gripe people had was its limited content options, which the company has improved somewhat and continues to work on.

Are these changes enough to save Google TV from the dismal sales and price cuts it has seen to date? It’s definitely a step in the right direction.

Google’s Content Problem

One thing that hampered Google TV after its launch is that it was immediately blocked by Hulu and several television networks, whose sites are normally accessible via any desktop Web browser. This limited the breadth of Web content available on the platform, a problem already familiar to users of similar services like Boxee. Google is still working on forging a partnership that would bring the pay subscription service Hulu Plus to the platform. So far, Roku is the only major set top box provider that has managed to score a presence from Hulu Plus.

In theory, the availability of apps from the Android Marketplace should help bring more content to Google TV, but those apps are limited to about 50 at first, and they’re not likely to include any additional premium content like television shows and movies. Obviously, apps that rely on handset-centric features like location, telephony and touchscreen capability don’t make sense on a TV screen.

To get a truly competitive selection of content on the Google TV platform, it’s going to need to continue to hammer away at big ticket partnerships with media companies.

Apple TV vs. Google TV

The news comes at the end of a week in which Apple’s plans to release an HDTV set dominated headlines. Speculation about a forthcoming Apple-branded television has been swirling for a few years, but it kicked into high gear this week after the release of the official Steve Jobs biography by Walter Isaacson. In the book, Jobs is quoted as saying that he had a desire to reinvent television and suggested that a TV set was one of the last projects the Apple co-founder was working on before he resigned in August.

Confirmed details about the TV set are scarce, but it’s expected to be released in 2013, so expect the rumor mill to churn forward until then.

In the meantime, Google is competing with Apple’s own set-top box, the $99 Apple TV. What Google TV lacks in premium content, Apple makes up for via the iTunes Store. That said, Apple TV is tied pretty tightly to the iTunes ecosystem and other than apps for a few services like Netflix and YouTube, doesn’t have much in the way of Web-only content. Hulu Plus isn’t there, and unlike Google TV, Apple’s box does not include a Web browser.

The Google TV update will go live on Google TV-powered Sony hardware over the weekend and make its way to the Logitech Revue box at some point in the near future.

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