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Reviewers find Google's answer to Apple TV chaotic, complicated


The New York Times review of Google TV takes issue with its complexity, calling it a step in "the wrong direction," while The Wall Street Journal says it "missed the mark."

In his review of the new Google TV platform, David Pogue of The New York Times called it "an enormous step in the wrong direction: toward complexity." As an example of the overcomplexity of Google TV, Pogue cited the remote that accompanies Sony's Google TV-enabled 46-inch TV set, which has dozens of buttons, including a full QWERTY keyboard. Other setups require both a keyboard and a mouse.

The resulting interface frustrated the reviewer. "The problem with Google’s open approach, of course, is that it breeds inconsistency and chaos," said Pogue. For instance, Sony's remote had two "OK" buttons, but each worked "only sometimes."

Pogue asserts that the platform is "not for average people," though he admits that technophiles and tech-heads might find it interesting. For Pogue, the premise of Google TV, which aims to bring the full internet onto the TV set, is flawed. According to him, when the masses sit down at the TV, they want to be passive with brains turned off, not actively surfing the web.

The reviewer was also disappointed by the fact that major TV networks and Hulu block the Google TV Chrome browser from playing videos on their websites. Users are used to long load times, "missing plug-in" errors, and choppy videos on the Web, "but do we really want to pay hundreds of dollars to bring this sort of flakiness to our TV sets?" Pogue asked.

Walt Mossberg of The Wall Street Journal categorized Google TV as "a geek product," rather than a mainstream solution. "It’s too complicated," said Mossberg, adding that "some of its functions fall short."

Though the Google TV is built around search functionality, Mossberg found the searching-and-viewing process "frustrating." Mossberg also discovered that Google TV doesn't yet support Apple's QuickTime format, further undermining Google's claims that the platform supports the "whole internet." Google says QuickTime will eventually be supported in a future release.

Mossberg was also frustrated by having to switch back and forth between his cable box and Google TV, which only supports search and record functions for Dish Network boxes. He found the Google TV homescreen confusing, with categories that overlap like Queue and Bookmarks or Spotlight and Applications.

According to Mossberg, Google's attempt to integrate Web video and regular TV is a "smart move," but, as a "1.0 product," Google TV needs time to improve.

A step backward or in the wrong direction

The Times review runs counter to comments from Intel CEO Paul Otellini, who criticized the new Apple TV as overly simple. In September, Intel CEO Paul Otellini called Apple's new cloud-centric Apple TV a "step backward" because it didn't have the "full internet" like the Google TV. However, based on early reviews of Google TV, it appears that Google's 'steps' toward complexity haven't paid off.

After years of underwhelming sales of the device, Apple updated the Apple TV with a focus on streaming media in September, dropping the price to $99. Alongside the revamped set top box, the Cupertino, Calif., company introduced 99-cent iTunes rentals of TV shows from Fox and ABC.

The change seems to have worked for Apple. Chief Executive Steve Jobs announced in October that the newly launched Apple TV had sold 250,000 units. "We're thrilled with that," said Jobs.