Google TV – UX that missed the mark?

There’s been much discussion recently about Google TV, after reports of Logitech’s earnings – whose set-top-box “Revue” is powered by Google TV failed to meet expectations.

According to Mashable, and GigaOm,

Logitech expected to sell $18 million in Google TV-related products in Q4. But in its earnings report, the company revealed that it only sold $5 million in Google TV devices. Logitech also revealed that its inventory is up 28% in Q4 — thanks to all those unsold Google TV devices.

This leaves many people wondering what went wrong, with what seemed to be (on the surface) a great product and concept. I’ll admit that like most people, whenever I hear that Google is entering a market, my gut reaction is to think, how will this change things? Inevitably, like most, I think that Google has the potential to have a strong affect on whichever market they try to delve into. Given their scale, capabilities, and ability to draw talent from the job pool, they really should be able to pave the way forward.

But in this case, I think many people will agree – they’ve simply missed the mark. What is it about the Google TV that made the product fail so dismally?

Mashable’s Parr mentions that from the onset, he believed a key factor is getting the user experience right. And I definitely agree. Let’s be honest – Google is not reknowned for delivering great user experiences.  But what did they miss when it comes to UX?

Just a note: I don’t have a Google TV, so all the comments below are merely observations and what I could gather from videos and walkthroughs of the product.

Search doesn’t have all the answers

Google TV’s UX model is highly based around Search. In the product tour, the very first feature they promote is “Television, meet Search Engine”.

Screenshot from


Granted that yes, Google is a search giant, and why not leverage the product you know how to do best. I don’t disagree with this approach.  However, from a user experience perspective, Search is but one facet that meets a specific user mindset.

Typically, when a user uses Search as a means to find content, it’s directed – they have a title, a genre, a channel, an actor or director (some metadata that is searchable) in mind. When you are looking for something specific, or have a particular query in mind, search is an excellent tool to shortcut you to what you are looking for.

But Search alone doesn’t cover all user needs. And this is a major shortcoming of the entire Google TV experience, and a common mistake many businesses make when placing too much emphasis on the power of search.

Consider your own TV viewing habits. How often do you know exactly what you feel like watching? How often do you have a vague idea of what you might be in the mood for? As content choices increase, it’s very clear that it’s really content discovery that is becoming a key differentiator – particularly in the On-Demand  space.  People increasingly suffer from the fear of missing out (FOMO). And content providers are realising it’s important to look for ways to push content to the surface that might be relevant, through recommendations (global, personal, social), or editorially curated features.

Using a content-centric world

One of the main concepts I think they did begin to realise and scratch the surface of (though not necessarily execute correctly), is amalgamating content sources by show. As a piece of content becomes available through multiple sources, we’re seeing a trend towards aggregating sources based on the show itself. It’s the notion that the user begins to think less about the content source, and more about what content they want to access. Where they can access a piece of content becomes a secondary concern – but this is also a great way for On Demand results to be mixed in with traditional linear programming, hence promoting a service or potentially upselling an On-Demand rental.

Google touched on this concept ever so slightly, by aggregating content sources in the search result for a specific show. But again, without content discovery, this feature is limited.

Turning a two-foot experience into a ten-foot experience?

The second main point Google make in the product tour is “Browse the whole web. Not just some of it. All of it.”

Screenshot from:

And I think this yet another ill-conceived notion – perhaps because its timing is just not quite right.

Merging Internet and TV is not a new concept – indeed many a early adopter would have at some point, hooked up their computer or media centre PC to their TV set, using a keyboard and mouse to try and navigate sites. How many of you actually do this on a regular basis?

Speaking from my own experience, it’s a fad. It seems neat at first, but after awhile, it’s just awkward. Leaning forward, squinting at the screen, fiddling with the resolution – It’s uncomfortable. And this is because currently, the web is primarily designed as a two-foot experience. So why are we trying to move it to a ten-foot experience?

Even if you buy the devices to match (such as a mouse or media keyboard etc), few sites are optimised for TV. And this is why I believe it may be more a matter of timing. I may reconsider the appropriateness of browsing the web, as soon as sites detect that you are on a TV and display the appropriate interface for TV.

And this is exactly what Google are trying to do, by encouraging people to optimise their sites for TV.  (Though I must say, their “optimised templates” really fail to inspire). We’re not there yet – though it’s only a matter of time  - but user’s don’t think about whether a site is optimised for TV or not – they’re only aware that most sites are a pain to navigate from ten feet away.

Competing with secondary devices

A secondary point to consider is that this “browse the web” feature is directly competing with a user’s secondary devices. We know from research that users are increasingly multi-tasking in front of the television set. So then, why would I want to “browse the web” on my TV, when I have a laptop, tablet device or smartphone right nearby, ready to deliver a more appropriate one or two foot experience?

When you add the consideration that the TV remains a shared space, you really need to think about when it is going to be most useful browsing the web on a shared screen.

The future?

These are just the main things from a UX perspective that I think they’ve failed to pick up on.  One can only hope that the product will get better, as they continue their foray into the TV landscape. However I believe they really need to look closely at things from a user-centred perspective – and have a clear idea on what will differentiate their product from an increasingly crowded space.

On this note, I literally laughed out loud, when I read the following line from their product tour:

“The coolest thing about Google TV is that we don’t even know what the coolest thing about it will be”

Though I understand what they were trying to say, to me it pretty much spelt the opposite. Let’s just leave it at that.

  • Jordan Sim

    Love your concept of the web being a ’2 foot experience. Not a 10 foot experience”.
    But I must also say that browsing experience off a tv, from the couch, is pretty good.

    I also see Internet-enabled TV as a strong competitor to the laptop market but not so much to the mobile market. If anything, in the case of Google TV, the ‘Chrome to Phone’ extension would be a natural extension to make mobile devices complimentary to the TV.

    • Sheryl Soo

      Thanks for the comments, Jordan!

      I think the browsing experience from the couch currently requires you to have the right equipment (mouse, keyboard) to make the 10 foot experience bearable. Don’t forget that many people’s TV set may be much further than your own. Google have definitely realised this needs improvement, pushing for “TV Friendly” websites.

      I also think generally, plonking an interface that has been designed for web, whilst it may work (and is cheaper than investing in developing a version for TV), is not necessarily the best solution from a UX perspective.

      IPTV has huge potential in the mobile market – but needs to be supported by more affordable data plans to really take off. Imagine being able to continue watching a program on the train as you commute. This is the whole concept of TV everywhere – it’s pervasive, and moves from one device to the other.

  • Matthew Ho

    nice summary and totally agree about social & content discovery. I dont know why, they have leveraged the content discovery from Youtube. that’s actually pretty good.

    I LOVE the UI on Boxee. Google should just buy’em =)

    • Sheryl Soo

      Boxee just got about $15 million funding, so hopefully that will never happen! :)

      • Matthew Ho

        what i meant was that Youtube has an awesome content discovery and social network built around it. they should leverage this.

        Great news for Boxee. I’m still trying to figure out how Boxee is going to make money….

        • Sheryl Soo

          I think they’ve tried with YouTube Leanback. Again, with this product, it seems like they lack a solid understanding of how users prefer to watch short-form content. A little UCD would go a long way. Also, content discovery can be so much more than just recommendations, which is primarily what is used on YouTube.

          Agree on the point about Boxee. Though I believe this may be a reason why they have brought out hardware (Boxee Box), not sure about how they further plan to monetize their product.

  • Kylo TV Browser


    Your comments echo our observations. I’m from Hillcrest Labs and we make the in-air motion sensing technology in the LG magic motion remote. We also make the Kylo TV Browser. It’s a free download for PCs and Macs connected to TVs. While it works best with one of our remotes, it works fine with any mouse and many of our users just use a standard wireless mouse. Given your interest, you might want to take a look.

    We were surprised at how disjointed and poorly designed the GTV user experience is. You rightly summarize some of problems, but after using one for a bit you would also discover a great deal of navigation, discovery and content inconsistency. Also the huge ‘try everything’ remotes were disappointing. Given their history, we feel that they will make huge improvements moving forward however.

    Of course our bias is towards adding point & click to TVs. After all point & click completely transformed personal computers 25 years ago and is completely changing phones today. With the arrival of better pointers, like LGs, and faster TV chipsets, the TV industry is on the edge of major advances.

    Jim Gable
    Hillcrest Labs