The Consumer Electronics Show next month in Las Vegas, Nevada, was meant to be the great coming-out party for Google Inc’s new software for televisions, which adds Web video and other computer smarts to TV sets. Although Google already has a deal with Sony Corp for its Internet TVs, other television makers — Toshiba Corp, LG Electronics Inc and Sharp Corp — were prepared to flaunt their versions of the systems.
However, Google has asked the TV makers to delay their introductions, according to people familiar with the company’s plans, so that it can refine the software, which has received a lukewarm reception. The late request caught some of the manufacturers off guard.
It also illustrates the struggles Google faces as it tries to expand into the tricky, unfamiliar realm of consumer electronics and drum up broad interest in a Web-based TV product that consumers want.
Google has a long history of putting out new products and then revising them on the fly. However, in the consumer electronics market, companies place big, well-timed bets — to attract holiday buyers, say, or back-to-school shoppers.
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 McQuivey, an analyst at Forrester Research Inc, 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,” Weakley said.
Under Sony’s deal with Google, the first Google TVs were shipped in October, starting at US$600 for a 24-inch HD flat-screen unit and going up to US$1,400 for a 46-inch TV.
Sony and Logitech International SA also sell complementary appliances that let people tap into the Google TV software without replacing their televisions.
Samsung Electronic Co 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 Inc 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 Corp’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 products from Netflix Inc or Amazon.com Inc on Google TV, and can watch regular TV programming. The major US networks — NBC, ABC and CBS — though, are not providing shows on Google TV, and they 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 — searching — 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.
However so far, Google TV is not ready for prime time, according to consumer technology reviewers and some early customers.
Despite these limitations, the major TV makers were prepared to jump on the Google TV bandwagon. In particular, they hoped to blunt any lead established by Sony.
Now the TV makers have been asked to hold off on releasing products until Google completes the new version of its software, adding features like an application store.
“We will not be announcing a Toshiba TV or Blu-ray player or demonstrating the products at [the Consumer Electronic Show],” said Jeff Barney, the vice president of Toshiba’s digital products division. “We have an understanding with Google about the future product roadmap and will bring the right product out at the right time frame.”
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