This week thousands of developers gathered at Google I/O 2010 in San Fransisco to find out what Google’s got up their sleeve for the next year (and beyond) and how their contributions can make things better for the end user. At this year’s event Google introduced a new video standard, demoed their latest software revision of Android, and pulled the veil off their latest foray into a whole new market–television.
WebM: Flash, HTML5, h.264–these are all video codecs that power different types of video players on the Internet. WebM is a new video codec developed by Google. The plan for the WebM format is to make it open-source and royalty-free from the get-go. WebM is packaged into three parts: VP8, a high-quality video codec under a royalty-free license; Vorbis, an already open source and broadly implemented audio codec; and a container format based on a subset of the Matroska media container. According to Google, “VP8′s efficient bandwidth usage will mean lower serving costs for content publishers and high quality video for end-users. The codec’s relative simplicity makes it easy to integrate into existing environments and requires less manual tuning to produce high quality results.” So far, the following companies are backing the new WebM standard in their browsers: Google (duh), Mozilla, Opera, and Adobe. (Mozilla already updated their Firefox to support it, Opera says their browsers will support it “soon”, Adobe will inject VP8 support into Flash too, and Chrome support comes on on May 24.) Google will also implement it in the YouTube player (HTML5 & WebM, sittin’ in a tree…). WebM also has a list of hardware supporters including AMD, ARM, Broadcom, NVIDIA, Skype, and T.I. But the big question is if Microsoft and Apple will adopt it. At this point, there’s no word if Apple will jump on the bandwagon (big surprise there), and Microsoft has stated it will support WebM in Internet Explorer 9 (but users will be required to install the VP8 codec themselves). If there’s any tech company out there who can develop and push out a new open source video codec it’s Google. With the on-going battle for dominance between the aging Flash and up-and-coming HTML5, it will certainly be interesting to see if Google can emerge out victorious with WebM.
Google TV: Let’s start with the basics. Google TV is software, not hardware. Just like an HTC phone runs Android, a Sony television will run Google TV. Google TV will come preinstalled on TVs, TV receivers, and TV cable/satellite boxes. Here’s what Google has been mulling over, it’s what sparked the idea for GTV: “…an increasing amount of our entertainment experience is coming from our phones and computers. One reason is that these devices have something that the TV lacks: the web. With the web, finding and accessing interesting content is fast and often as easy as a search. But the web still lacks many of the great features and the high-quality viewing experience that the TV offers.” The goal with GTV is to combine TV and the web into “a single seamless experience.”
GTV brings the Chrome web browser to the TV in an intuitive way. Sure, you can bring up an address bar and access all your favorite sites (Flash support is included), but what makes Google’s attempt at bringing the web to the TV different from all the past failed attempts (think AOL TV, MSN TV, etc.) is the way search is handled. Let’s set up a common situation: You sit down in the living room, turn on the TV, and flick through the channels to find something to watch. Say you want to watch an episode of The Office, but you’re not sure what channel, date, and time it’s on. You could open up the Guide supplied by your cable/satillite provider, but scrubbing through the never-ending Guide is tedious and annoying. With GTV you can bring up a simple Search bar (that’s located at the top of the screen) and enter The Office. The search list aggregates content from your TV provider and the Internet, providing you with all kinds of information about the show you searched. For example, it will inform you about the specific air date, time, and network the show is on, you can DVR an episode or entire season (if you’re set top box is DVR-capable, obviously), and web-related content about the show will be offered (options to watch clips of The Office at NBC.com and YouTube will be offered). And since the Chrome browser is built-in, you can search for all kinds of information surrounding The Office from sites like IMDB and Wikipedia. There’s also a PIP-esque feature that allows you to watch TV on top of a web page. TV and web combined, get it?
And that’s not all! Since it’s Google that’s backing this new venture into television, you know the software is going to be open for tweaking and developer additions with apps. Shortly after GTV launches, Google will make available the Google TV SDK and web APIs for TV; these tools will enable developers to create and distribute rich applications through the Android Market. Google TV-specific apps will include offerings from Pandora, Last.fm, and Netflix. Just as apps exploded in the Android Market for cell phones, with the GTV SDK and an open environment at developers’ disposal I’m sure the TV will get fitted with some new and exciting apps that will make the TV experience more engaging. For now, Google is asking devs to optimize their websites for GTV so when users go to access them, things won’t look too disjointed.
Sony will be the first to incorporate Google TV support into their “Sony Internet TV” devices (these include HDTVs and Blu-Ray players) this fall. DISH will enable “advanced integration” through HDMI on its HD DVR boxes this fall and Logitech will push out a Google TV “companion box” powered by Intel. Engadget received a demonstration of the Logitech box, check it out in the video directly above. Specs-wise, there are four hardware requirements for all boxes to support GTV: broadband connectivity, HDMI connection, a strong processor, and a pointing device (remote)/keyboard. About that last requirement…users will be able to control their set top boxes with Android and iPhone devices with a free Google TV app via WiFi or Bluetooth. Using Android voice recognition software, users can speak into their phone to surf channels and bring up menus. Also, if you’re looking at a website on your phone you can wirelessly beam it to your TV and continue browsing that way. GTV brings the mobile experience to the TV in other ways as well. Eventually you’ll be able to access the mobile version of Android Market and download and play apps right on the TV. And with the GTV SDK, devs will have the opportunity to create apps specifically made for TV, as mentioned previously. Google TV-enabled devices will be available Fall 2010 at Best Buy, the SDK will release in early 2011, and the open source code will be outed in Summer 2011.
Other announcements: WebM, Android 2.2, and Google TV were the big three announcements made at this year’s Google I/O conference. But there were two other new additions that are worthy of mention. First up, the Chrome Web Store. The Web Store allows you to install web apps into your Chrome browser (and soon onto Chrome OS). All downloaded web apps are added to a tag page for quick and easy access. Google demoed free and paid apps like Plants vs. Zombies, Lego Star Wars, Sports Illustrated. The Web Store will be available at the Chrome Dev Channel soon, but there’s no word on an official launch date. The other announcement? Google Wave is no longer invitation-only, it’s now open to the public at large. After playing around with Wave a while back now, I still feel like it’s trying to do too much in one space. With some tweaks (thanks to it becoming more open sourced) and more tutorials Wave might just make a breakthrough with the mainstream.
Let’s take a step back now and take a look at all this Google goodness. With WebM, Google is trying to make the web more open with a new advanced video codec. The next iteration of Android continues to tack on features to Google’s growing mobile OS and in some areas it’s starting to leapfrog iPhone OS (search and speed, to name a few). And Google TV promises to change the way we watch, interact, and engage with with TV. An exciting year in tech lies ahead, with Google at the helm.