The headlines are swirling around possible improvements to the Google TV platform. It’s exciting, because Google TV is an exciting and important platform in itself.
Under the title “What’s next for Google TV?” Janko Roettgers’ notes package brings Google TV’s new director of product management, Rob Caruso, up to speed on a few things. It starts with a description of the state of the platform – some 250 device partners around the world and seven of the top 10 TV makers making TVs with Google TV baked into them. “If you really want inside baseball, that’s pretty much how every press call starts with any platform – with numbers telling you how good the company you’re talking to is. big and important right now. It’s a good context, but…).
What really grabbed the headlines, however, was the talk of fitness mainstreaming. “Fitness is another big area of exploration,” Caruso told Roettgers. This is important for several reasons. The first is the acquisition of Fitbit, so it makes sense that they would consider Google TV with fitness in mind. The second is that we’re all spending more time at home in front of our TVs, so now is a good time to watch Google TV with fitness in mind.
But it’s nowhere close to some kind of deliverable. And if there’s anything Google loves to do, it’s doing its best Lucy van Pelt impersonation. The products are football, and we are all Charlie Brown. Look no further than the fact that this is Google TV’s second incarnation as a product.
Good for us (and not great for Google) is that there’s already a high rating for fitness and TV integration. Of course, it comes from Apple. There’s no avoiding the comparison, and that’s a pretty good starting point for what Google needs to do to actually get something in front of customers that they’ll actually use.
Some of them will be easy. Some of them won’t.
First of all, you need physical fitness
It’s not that hard to record a bunch of fitness videos and upload them; this sort of thing has been happening since the early days of VHS. (Ask your grandparents, kids.) This is a problem that can be solved just by throwing money at it.
And getting those fitness shows, for lack of a better term, in front of your Google TV customers is pretty easy – just give them a prime spot on the home screen.
There are a number of online fitness classes available, and it’s relatively easy to get them on your TV, either natively or through something like Chromecast or AirPlay.
This could actually work in favor of Google. While Apple has its own well-produced videos, Google could just stick with the third-party route and go from there.
Apple Watch has direct integration with Apple Fitness+. Google, not so much.
Then you need the tracking
If you forget to start your fitness tracker, did you really train? We have all been there.
One of the neatest things about Apple Fitness+ on Apple TV is that it has direct integration with Apple Watch. It was a huge feature when it was announced, and it remains excellent today. It’s super easy to track your workout, whether it’s a basic class (which I tend to do the most), or HIIT, or whatever.
Also, when you take the course, you can see your Apple Watch tracking on the screen. Heart rate, timer, calories. Is it necessary? Not really. But it’s still very cool.
Add to that the fact that you can start and pause workouts from your watch without having to reach for the remote. It’s what you’d call a fully integrated experience – something Google has always struggled with.
It’s not something that can be easily replicated, even with the acquisition of Fitbit. APIs – layers of software that allow one service to easily communicate with another – go a long way. This is what allows Fitbit data to talk directly to Google Fit or Strava to talk to Apple Fitness. But that only goes so far, and with Android Wear so far behind Fitbit (which has non-smartwatch trackers, of course) and Apple Watch in terms of adoption, it’s a huge hill to climb.
Google’s biggest obstacle to improving its own services and products is usually itself.
And finally you need focus
The biggest problem with Google’s products and services has always been, well, Google. It has the wherewithal to create a top-notch TV platform, and I would say it has one in Google TV, which in many ways improved on Android TV before it. It is more robust and powerful than Roku. Busier, perhaps, than the sparse experience that is Apple TV. It’s easy to compare with Amazon Fire TV, especially now that it’s available in the inexpensive (but awkwardly named) Chromecast with Google TV.
But it’s also the same Google that let its smartwatch segment languish for years. (I was at the Google I/O conference when the first watches were announced.) The distributed strategy, with partners doing all the hardware, just didn’t work, and Apple Watch took over that space. Will the long-talked-about Pixel Watch solve this problem? Who knows.
Google Fit has also been around for years. But that’s an afterthought – a way to keep information in one place, but not really a destination you’re going to do your exercise on. Acquiring Fitbit may well be the first step towards solving this problem, but Google is taking a lot of first steps. He does a lot of “exploring”. It’s the 10,000th step that will determine if this time is different – or if it’s just another chance for Lucy to shoot the ball.