Google has a long history of putting out new products and then revising them on the fly. But in the consumer electronics market, companies place big, well-timed bets — to attract holiday buyers, say, or back-to-school shoppers.
This year, for example, computer makers waited for Google’s new ChromeOS software so they could ship new types of Web-based laptops. But delays at Google led the manufacturers to miss this year’s holiday season.
Google has notched a big win with its Android software for smartphones. But, again, phone and computer makers have been forced to push back their plans to release tablets based on a refined version of the software, leaving Apple’s iPad as the tablet king this Christmas.
Now similar problems may be plaguing Google TV. With its push to improve the lackluster software, Google, like so many companies before it, appears to be confronting the technical challenges that have kept Web TV from becoming mainstream.
Industry analysts also say Google’s sudden change of plans reflects a weakness in the company’s business culture around managing relationships with partners.
“Google as a company is not a particularly partner-friendly or partner-focused company,” said James L. McQuivey, an analyst at Forrester, who added that because of the delay, it might take another year before Google TV has a chance to catch fire.
Executives at the television makers played down the idea that they were reacting to an abrupt change in marching orders from Google, but according to people familiar with the negotiations, they were caught by surprise.
Gina Weakley, a Google spokeswoman, declined to discuss “rumors and speculation” about unannounced products.
“Our long-term goal is to collaborate with a broad community of consumer electronics manufacturers to help drive the next-generation TV-watching experience, and we look forward to working with other partners to bring more devices to market in the coming years,” Ms. Weakley said.
Under Sony’s deal with Google, the first Google TVs were shipped in October, starting at $600 for a 24-inch HD flat-screen unit to $1,400 for a 46-inch TV. Sony and Logitech also sell complementary appliances that let people tap into the Google TV software without replacing their televisions.
Samsung now appears set to be the only new entrant to the Google TV market at the show, where it will present two appliances similar to those from Sony and Logitech, according to people familiar with the company’s plan. Vizio will also demonstrate its take on a Google TV, but will do so in private demonstrations off the show floor.
The Google TV products on the market are close to full-fledged computers. They run on Intel’s Atom chips, most often found in laptops, and can process software common on PCs.
The biggest promise of Internet television — the ability to watch any show or movie at any time, streamed over the Web — is far from reality with Google TV. People can pay to watch shows or movies on demand using Netflix or Amazon on Google TV, and can watch regular TV programming. The major networks, though, are not providing shows on Google TV, and NBC, CBS, ABC and Hulu have blocked people from watching full-length shows on their Web sites using Google TV.
Google TV offers viewers other things they may not find useful, like watching YouTube videos and showing friends vacation photos on a bigger screen, or monitoring ESPN.com while watching the game and writing Twitter posts about “Mad Men” on the same screen displaying the show.
Google promises to apply its main expertise — search — to the TV. Instead of the byzantine cable and DVR programming menus that viewers navigate today, with Google TV, they can search for the name of a show and see when it’s being broadcast and where it’s available online, in addition to viewing links to Web sites about the show and its actors.
But, so far, Google TV is not ready for prime time, according to consumer technology reviewers and some early customers.