Where were all the Google TVs at CES?

Just a week ago, the blogosphere was abuzz with the news that Google had officially locked down partners for a whole new generation of devices with its operating system for connected TVs. But if Google finally is gaining the trust and support of the consumer electronics industry, there was little evidence of it at this week’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

In a blog post last Thursday, Google talked up new partnerships with device manufacturers LG and Samsung, as well as an extension of its announced deals with Sony and Vizio. It also reported new partnerships with chip providers Marvell and MediaTek, which would give the operating system support among a wider range of devices. For those who’ve been waiting patiently for Google TV to finally “take off,” those deals were seen as validation that maybe Eric Schmidt wasn’t crazy when he said that by next summer “the majority of the televisions you see in stores” will have Google TV installed.

But the reality of what was actually shown at CES doesn’t match the spin. Let’s review:

  • Sony, which was burnt badly in its first go-around with Google TV, has decided to take the operating system off its connected TVs for the foreseeable future. Instead, it’s shipping Google TV in one connected Blu-ray player and a streaming media box that will compete against Roku, Apple TV, Boxee Box and others.
  • LG announced two connected TV models with Google TV installed, sized at 47″ and 55″. Both will be backlit and have 1080p resolution, as well as 3-D capabilities. While pricing of the sets weren’t announced, the specs that were shared suggest these 3DTVs are likely to be priced at a premium to other LG products, which is never a good sign in a tough economic environment. What’s more telling is that LG’s Google TVs were announced as an afterthought to those with its own Smart TV platform, which the company says boasts almost 1,200 apps in its own store.
  • Like Sony, Vizio announced a streaming player and Blu-ray player with Google TV installed. It also detailed the coming availability of 47″, 55″ and 65″ 3DTVs that will use the latest Google TV operating system. But don’t expect it to talk up Google TV in its marketing materials: While based on the Android operating system, Vizio is re-skinning the system and branding the app framework VIA Plus (for Vizio Internet Apps).
  • And Samsung, which has long been expected to introduce Google TV on at least some of its devices, didn’t mention the partnership at all in its press conference. Instead, it talked up the improved feature set of its own app platform, which now has Kinect-like voice and gesture control, as well as facial recognition.

So what can we learn about the state of Google TV in 2012? Despite all the bullish headlines, it’s been largely relegated to experimental, low-volume devices like streaming video players — remember, Roku has sold only 2.5 million in three years — and 3DTVs, which have yet to gain mainstream adoption and seem unlikely to do so in the near future. In other words, CE manufacturers are still taking a “cautious approach” to the OS.

The one exception seems to be Vizio, which actually seems committed to having Google TV power some of its more popular products. Then again, as one industry observer pointed out to me during the week, Vizio doesn’t have the same development resources as the other major manufacturers, meaning it has to depend on someone else’s OS for smart TVs. And again — it’s being very careful to ensure that the look and feel of the OS is all Vizio, completely downplaying the Google TV brand.

While it’s clear that the CE industry needs to do something to fight fragmentation between the dozen or so smart TV platforms, it seems unlikely that Google TV will be its savior in the near future. Google might have more partners than it did a year ago, but they’re hardly adopting the platform en masse. Unless something drastic happens, don’t expect that to change anytime soon.

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