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Why Google Needs to Set a Web-TV Standard


Fragmented app development desperately needs a breakthrough.

The Web-connected TV is burgeoning. Sets linked to the Web are becoming more common, smartphone apps allowing mobile control of users' DVRs have been developed, and with a streaming set-top box, programming is no longer limited to a network schedule.

But as with any industry in its early stages, it's unfocused, fragmented, and limited by design.

It needs a leader to consolidate the best features into a single package. One that can act as a guide -- or maybe a hub -- for all the other apps and services to follow. Options are great, but the industry as it stands is far too scattered.

Yesterday, the Wall Street Journal reported a partnership between Google (GOOG) and Dish Network (DISH) to develop a service that enables users to browse, search, and personalize satellite TV programming and online video via Google search. Users will interact with the service using a keyboard rather than a remote -- which can also log search information integral to ad revenue. The system is still in the beta-testing phase -- limited only to a handful of employees -- with no release date in sight. In fact, sources tell the Wall Street Journal that it could be killed at any time.

Fortunately, the lack of a release date gives Google and Dish a wide window to design a service that sets itself apart from the hundreds of Web-enabled TV setups -- hopefully leading the way to a new unified standard. But then again, this could just be a continuation of Google's expansion into the TV ad game. (See Why a Google-TiVo Partnership Changes the TV Ad Game.) Without innovation, the service is rendered lost in the saturated, aimless crowd.

Already, consumers are overloaded with the variety of methods to connect their TV to the Web or network. They can view Netflix (NFLX) videos with a Roku box, Xbox 360 (MSFT), PS3 (SNE), and TiVo (TIVO). The Apple TV (AAPL) turns a set into an iTunes receiver for music and movies. Verizon (VZ), Comcast (CMCSA), and DirecTV (DTV) released smartphone apps to control cable provider DVRs. And manufacturers of popular HD media players include -- but are nowhere near limited to -- Western Digital (WDC), Seagate (STX), Netgear (NTGR), Boxee, ASUSTek, and Syabas Technology.

As you can imagine, each provides a unique setup, hardware, interface, and capabilities -- leaving even the most educated tech users to be confused at the best selection.

With a public bewildered by limitless companies setting separate standards, an industry leader needs to take the reins. With their combined clout and name recognition, Google and Dish could possibly provide a solution that will allow the field to finally progress and expand properly. But the current details of the service leave much to be desired.
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