Google TV Preview: The Mom Test and the Nerd Test

Google TV

To win the hearts, minds, and dollars of the public, Google TV will have to pass two tests: the Mom Test and the Nerd Test. The Mom Test measures (in perfectly scientific ways, provided your definition of science includes "my opinion") whether the average non-techy person will be able to both easily use and see the value in a product. The iPhone passes the Mom Test. Ubuntu does not. The Nerd Test, on the other hand, measures whether those who are already familiar with tech will respect and appreciate this new effort. Boxee passes the Nerd Test. Apple TV does not.

The Mom Test is important because without the support of non-experts, the platform will never gain mainstream popularity and market share. We in the tech press have to remember that we are, in general, weirdo obsessives who take tech far too seriously, and that we don't represent the norm. The Nerd Test, on the other hand, is especially important for Google TV, which needs a ton of development before it reaches its potential. If the nerds ignore it, it'll wither and die.

The Mom Test

I called my own mom to ask about her thoughts on Google TV. Not surprisingly, she hadn't heard of it--she is, I think, pretty typical in her use and understanding of tech. She has an HDTV and Verizon FiOS cable, but no DVR and, importantly, no smartphone. She's watched some video on Hulu in the past, but doesn't have a Netflix account and has never tried to play Web video on her TV.

Her reaction to my lengthy explanation of Google TV? Cautiously interested. She likes that, unlike Boxee or Windows Media Center, Google TV mostly stays invisible--she spent enough time struggling with the switch from Comcast to Verizon, and she doesn't want to deal with a radical change. I estimated the price at around $150 for the Logitech box (any more and I think they're sunk) and she found that a reasonable entry point. She likes the idea of a built-in Google TV, like in Sony's upcoming sets, as well as the so-far-unsaid possibility of Google TV built into a cable box, but that also depends on the marketing more than anything else (see below).

While she liked that Google TV brings Hulu and other Web video to her TV, she's totally uninterested in the myriad other features, like streaming video on a local network, music/photo support, and, notably, apps. Apps on a TV are overwhelming, especially for someone who's never owned a smartphone. And, like I expected, she did not see the point in browsing the Web on a TV, no matter how optimized it is.

She was also concerned about the remote control situation. She doesn't have a smartphone or tablet, which would probably be the best option, and doesn't want to put a keyboard and mouse on her coffee table for obvious reasons. From my limited time with the iPhone and Android app (they're identical, by the way), I think she'd be better off with a dedicated remote control with a slide-out QWERTY keyboard. The apps start out with a simple homescreen but quickly devolve into a mess, with mysterious icons, too many options (gesture pad, d-pad, virtual d-pad, or trackpad?), and an ugly and overwhelming mass of grids. This could be a problem--not an unbeatable one, but not one that should be underestimated, either.

But the biggest obstacle Google will face with this demographic will be in its marketing. It's a complex little gadget, and it's not easy to quickly describe what the thing does; her "cautious interest" only came after 45 minutes of careful explanation and description. If she just saw a display unit at Best Buy, she'd almost certainly ignore it, assuming it was some fancy new set-top box that's beyond her tech abilities. Slingbox, the Boxee Box, TiVo, HTPCs, Roku, and all the rest faced the same problem at retail--even after the manufacturers gave employees special training on how to sell TiVo.

Google will have to be damned careful in their marketing of this device--if they stick to super-simple explanations, and lean on the fact that (at its base) it merely adds web video search to your normal TV, they may have a chance here. But even the video posted on Google.com/tv is too much, with its talk of saving bookmarked video to a homescreen. For those in the Mom Test demo, bookmarking and homescreens, let alone DLNA servers, are anathema to a simple TV experience.

Will those in this demographic, the non-nerds, buy Google TV? It may be more likely to succeed than Boxee or Windows Media Center, but its success will depend largely on marketing.

The Nerd Test

For the Nerd Test, in a fit of self-absorption and self-deprecation, I chose myself. I've used the Apple TV (and hated it), Windows Media Center (and liked it quite a bit), and Boxee (and really liked it), as well as a host of media streamers, game consoles, and assorted other set-top boxes. I'm not, nor have I ever been, a developer, but as a nerd consumer I think I can speak for this demographic.

After taking the service for a spin yesterday using Logitech's as-yet-unnamed box, Google TV doesn't go far enough, in my opinion--it's less a media center and more a portal to services I already have. Why am I buying a set-top box that can't record TV to a hard drive, that can't search through a cable-company-provided DVR, and that doesn't replace Verizon's ugly, inefficient Guide with something more, well, Googley? The emphasis on search works well enough. But if Google TV is mostly a search bar for all of my existing crap, plus Web video and assorted stuff on the Internet, it won't revolutionize my TV experience--it'll just make parts of it slightly easier.

I like that it integrates an entire living room together, thanks to Logitech's IR blaster. It lets you use one remote--preferably a smartphone--to control a TV, cable box, stereo, DVR, and whatever else requires remote control. That's a huge advance.

Apps may end up being the savior of Google TV in the nerd community (or doom it to obscurity). There'll have to be new apps written for Google TV specifically, both for simple usability reasons--we all know how upscaling iPhone apps to the iPad worked out, and this is a much more drastic change--but also for practical reasons. A TV is not a smartphone, and I don't want to read news, blogs, or books on my TV, nor do I want to play accelerometer-based games, use augmented reality, or look up restaurant reviews. I don't want to use social networking sites on my TV, nor do I even particularly want to listen to music, podcasts, or Pandora via those speakers.

This is turning into some kind of Dr. Seuss gone nerd diatribe, but you get the idea--apps on a TV might be great in the future, but they're not great now (I do not like them, Dan I am).

There are a lot of unknowns about Google TV that complicate these tests. Mobile Android is pretty lacking in video codec support, for example. That's forgivable on a smartphone, but a dealbreaker on a media center. If I can't stream my torrented TV episodes because Google TV doesn't support Xvid or .MKV, it's worthless to me. I wasn't able to get much of a look at Hulu or Netflix through Google TV--what's it like to browse through those sites? (And it sounds very likely that Hulu won't be available on the service after all, unless some deal is struck before launch.) Is it like Roku or Boxee, where you're limited to the movies that are already in your Instant Watch queue? Can you browse new releases, instead of having to search for them?

There are lots of things to like about Google TV, but I'm not sure it's a better option than the upcoming Boxee Box.

Nevertheless, tech pundits (Fast Company's included) will search for a variety of meanings from Google's move into the TV business. Is it that Google is vying to control your home entertainment center, just as Microsoft has been doing for years (with marginal success outside of Xbox 360)? Are Google and Apple about to engage in a wrestling match for control of your big screen? You'll hear both of those points, and lots more before the first product is released in the fall. But no matter how many pixels are spilled talking about the promise and perils of Google TV, its success depends largely on mom, and whether or not she can be convinced it's worth buying.

Dan Nosowitz, the author of this post, can be followed on Twitter, corresponded with via email, and stalked in San Francisco (no link for that one--you'll have to do the legwork yourself).

Add New Comment

18 Comments

  • sarah

    As a DISH employee I just purchase the GOOGLE TV and it works good for my daughter! I can view everything that she doing. I love that we can sit together do some learning activities online and play games. It's a great experience and I don't have to go to another room. DISH is coming out with some amazing devices! With working at DISH I get to learn a lot about it before I even buy it.

  • Justin Brodack

    I just wanted to say that the offense taken at this is ridiculous. He was talking about his mom and was going with age more than gender. Quoting those social media stats just makes women sound more trendy than men not more tech savvy. You are free to do things differently on your own site if such a basic word like "mom" offends you but requiring everyone to use the same politically correct woman empowering language as you is going a bit far. We all know that women can be very tech savvy we don't need it beat into our heads.

  • Levisma

    Dear Dan Nosowitz,
    I am a 45 year old mom to an almost 19 year old awesome young man :) and I am so happy that I have him, because if I didn't, I probably wouldn't have a computer or any fun gadget, or even know that 1080 is better than 780 when it comes to buying a TV.
    I totally understand your point, and I in no way feel offended........yes, I can see both sides, but....whatever. I won't loose any sleep over it, or let my blood heat up because of it.

    I just wanted to say thank you for letting me know, that people like us, are taken into consideration when it comes new technology.......and I love my Mac for it :)

    Greetings from Oslo, Norway :)

  • Beth Blecherman

    I am almost afraid to jump into this discussion because it is getting so heated. I agree - the title was wrong, should of been "geek versus non-geek". Dan already commented with an apology which is the appropriate way to respond to this type of issue. I read and re-read this article and the last line gives it away "But no matter how many pixels are spilled talking about the promise and perils of Google TV, its success depends largely on mom, and whether or not she can be convinced it's worth buying." He used the word "she" because he was talking about HIS mom.

    Dan also said he works aside " women who could kick my ass up and down whatever digital metaphor for field would be appropriate here." - so he as well as many others realize how tech savvy women are. Letting the world know how tech savvy moms are is one of my main goals when I started blogging on TechMamas.com in 2006. I can say that we are making great progress - but there is still work to be done. I feel the best way to further this cause is to engage in conversations instead of making it some kind of battle. The number, stats and dollars are there to prove it - moms are not only tech savvy but they are making most of the tech purchases to boot!

    So instead of going back and forth, I say the best next move would be for Fast Company to have an article about Tech Moms! I also agree that we need to move on from the title and have a discussion about Google TV (which I am interested to read about). But I also agree that those boring terms may be the best in the long run (I am a fan of Geek vs Non-Geek). Maybe I choose geek because I am proud to say I am one (and @TechMama).

  • Dan Nosowitz

    Hey all--

    Well, this started a whole mess of offense that I really didn't intend. I'd like to apologize if anyone was offended here--I really was merely using "Mom" and "Nerd" as a sort of cheeky shorthand for layman and tech-savvy (because "layman" and "tech-savvy" are awfully boring terms), and I understand why some people may have found that troubling. I thought, if anything, I was referring to generation or age, rather than gender, though of course if so many readers misunderstood or were upset by my language, I perhaps should have chosen another word.

    No slight towards women's tech abilities was meant; I've worked in tech journalism for a few years now, and have written alongside women who could kick my ass up and down whatever digital metaphor for field would be appropriate here.

    You can even tell that I meant "layman" in that (jokingly named, I assure you) Mom category because I said it in the conclusion of that section--"Will those in this demographic, the non-nerds, buy Google TV?"

    So again, sorry if some took my attempt to be casual and funny in bad taste. It wasn't intended that way, and I hope the readers are willing to look past the headline to the actual point of the piece: do you guys like the Google TV?

  • Stephanie Piche

    Dan, this really doesn't fix your article. Renaming it does. I'm in shock still - and now you want us to look past the headline that will forever be indexed in Google to remind women that in 2010 we still were being marginalized as a gender... and by a man who claims to be a professional journalist.

    Big Time FAIL. You still don't get it.

  • George Bush

    Wow... to the people who are getting "offended", get a freaking grip. It is not the author's fault that he used "moms" to describe the laymen. It is completely legitimate to use the "moms" (or even the dads) to describe the kind of people who don't want have to do anything even remotely complex when it comes to technology (my parents are very good examples of this). The fact is, most moms (and dads) ARE clueless when it comes to most technology-related things. If you happen to be a mom and also good with technology then good for you. It means that he's not talking about YOU! Get over it and move on. Try to stop taking everything so personally and try to stop looking for every little things to be "offended" by. Otherwise you will not be very happy with your life.

    It is not the author's fault that you happen to be so hypersensitive and expect everyone to bow down to your every little wishes and expects everyone to change according to YOUR standards. Again get a freaking grip please!

  • Stephanie Piche

    Dear George Bush (coward to not use your real name)

    YOU ARE SO WRONG ABOUT THE FACTS!!! I am very happy with my life - but don't suffer fools and YOU are clearly one.

    "According to the latest stats women are ahead of men in the most popular social media community destinations such as Facebook (57%), Del.icio.us (52%), Ning (59%), Twitter (57%), Ustream.TV (66%) and Flickr (55%). (Brian Solis, Article In World of Social Media, Women Rule, April 2010)

    Additionally, mobile use is up and dominated by women (55%) with the 35-54 age group leading the way for social networking activity, followed by the 25-34 age group. (The Nielsen Company, Dec 2009).

  • Gen Hendrey

    Incidentally, anyone who thinks Stephanie or I are off our rockers might do well to pick up the current issue of Time and read Michael Scherer's cover article, "The New Sheriffs of Wall Street: The women charged with cleaning up the mess." If you think our complaint is unreasonable, perhaps the perspectives of Elizabeth Warren, Mary Schapiro, and Sheila Bair will change your mind.

  • Ellen Horvitz

    Stephanie;
    I understand your concern about how companies can stereotype unfairly and inaccurately, however, the intensity of your comments surprises me. Dan and I spoke about this, and he let me know that he could have used "mom", "dad," "layperson" or "non-tech person." He was using the term to describe a demographic (myself included) that may be of a certain age ( a lot older than you, I suspect), and definitely not as interested in social media and gadgets. That doesn't mean women, men, moms, dads, or grandparents...it is a demographic of a type of person with certain interests, and I happen to fit into that one. He wasn't talking about you---he was talking about me.
    If this is the worst problem in your life, you are indeed a very fortunate person.

  • Stephanie Piche

    FYI - I am a mother of a son who has graduated from college... so I am squarely in the Mom demographic and am a career woman. This stereo-typical, disrespectful categorization that your son has put in this article for Fast Company is disturbing. As a mother, I understand that YOU want to defend your son, but leading with Moms as "NON-Nerds" or people incapable of early adoption of technology is insulting and that you think it's not....

    Let me state the demographic information again - since clearly your son does not do the research to see who is using technology today and who would be an early adopter:

    "According to the latest stats women are ahead of men in the most popular social media community destinations such as Facebook (57%), Del.icio.us (52%), Ning (59%), Twitter (57%), Ustream.TV (66%) and Flickr (55%). (Brian Solis, Article In World of Social Media, Women Rule, April 2010)

    Additionally, mobile use is up and dominated by women (55%) with the 35-54 age group leading the way for social networking activity, followed by the 25-34 age group. (The Nielsen Company, Dec 2009)."http://www.mediapost.com/?fa=A...

    FYI, I wrote the above mentioned article, which is why I am so passionate about how brands are viewing and skewing women / Moms in the media.

    You see, I do know my audience and I do the research to know that women today do rule as early adopters. This is not 1950, it is 2010 and the Moms today are the early adopters of technology and using it more than any other demographic!

  • Jason Lombard

    "nor do I want to play accelerometer-based games, use augmented reality, or look up restaurant reviews. I don't want to use social networking sites on my TV, nor do I even particularly want to listen to music, podcasts, or Pandora via those speakers"

    The games and augmented reality I'll give you. But looking up restaurant reviews—especially with a group of people trying to reach a consensus sounds like an interesting use case.

    I'm unclear as to why you wouldn't want to listen to Pandora "via those speakers"? If you're truly a tech nerd, why aren't you piping the sound from your TV through your presumably high-end surround sound system? ;-)

  • Ellen Horvitz

    Well, I didn't realize that my hour-long talk with my son last night would result in people feeling insulted. I am Dan's mom, and yes, he was being funny and cute (that is his style). I am a successful professional woman, albeit somewhat older than the demographics mentioned in the comments. Dan has never engaged in gender stereotyping; our household has never functioned in a particularly "traditional" manner. I am not the most tech-savvy person in the world, but I use what I need to in a profession that requires some computer skills. When Dan called, he said that he could either speak with me or with his father (a Ph.D. scientist and early computer user), because he was focusing on our interest (or lack thereof) in social media and media gadgetry (my words, not his). The use of "Mom" was not gender-related, but rather "non tech-geek" related. He was trying, in a light-hearted way, to figure out the target audience for Google TV. As a early feminist, this type of article, (even if not written by my son) doesn't bother me. It is when gender or sexual stereotyping is written in a hurtful manner and regarding more important subject matter, that I will react. Chill, please.

  • Gen Hendrey

    I tried to write a thoughtful, yet brief, response but couldn't keep it short. Here's the nutshell: Many professional young women are weary of all the subtle slights they receive due to their gender. As a writer for a publication whose readership is highly techy--perhaps the most gender-segregated professional sphere remaining--the author might have better anticipated the reaction of his minority female readers to his use of the most feminine term to describe people who don't get tech.

    Beyond the nutshell, Ellen, I know you are on the defensive, and of course you read your son's writing--on the lines and between the lines--with personal insights his regular audience won't have, but I must take issue when you say "As a early feminist, this type of article...doesn't bother me. It is when gender or sexual stereotyping is written in a hurtful manner and regarding more important subject matter, that I will react."

    I became an adult in the '90s, long past a time when in this country a respectable man might commonly, intentionally, and publicly stereotype in a hurtful manner--especially regarding more important subject matter. Thanks to women like you, it is awfully rare to hear intentional, overt sexism in the kinds of places a professional woman is likely to find herself (and I don't think anybody is accusing the author of such sexism). But back in the '60s, I bet you knew plenty of women of your mother's age who thought you and your cohorts were making mountains out of all kinds of molehills.

    Gender inequality isn't gone yet. It also isn't just practiced by men. Not by a long shot. Today's gender inequality is pervasive and comes into play in subtle ways. For example, women are at a disadvantage in professional arguments or negotiations because the verbal and body language most effective in "winning" in those situations is absolutely considered unfeminine, regardless of what's written in any company handbook. Women are often unskilled at this language, reluctant to employ it, and penalized--consciously or unconsciously--for giving it a shot.

    When women are persistent or do not take kindly to a slight, they tend to be viewed as histrionic, whiney, bitchey, etc. Even if they voice objection in a calm and intelligent way, they are often told to chill out. Women themselves pepper their speech with all manner of conditional and self-minimizing expressions..."I kind of think..." "I just feel a little bit...." "I don't want to sound bitchy, but..." Really, we do, even if we think we don't. A (male) structural linguistics professor opened my mind--and my ears--to this during college, and it forever changed the way I expressed myself, as well as the way I heard other people's speech.

    Anyway, this is Fast Company. Every staff writer here knows the professional demographic of the audience. And almost every woman in tech realizes how comparatively few female colleagues she has had, and how male a sphere her working environment is. Additionally, every professional woman with children born in the last 10- or 15-years is likely aware that in the business world, "Mom" can be a pejorative term.

    Yes, "Mom" is a loaded word now. Everyone who writes about culture ought to know that. From "Mommy Wars" to "SAHMs" to "Working Moms" (as opposed to the imaginary mother who doesn't do any work?) to "Full Time Moms" (as opposed to employed fathers, who are never called Part Time Dads, and what, professional women with children who somehow cease to be mothers when they walk out the front door in the morning?), "Mom" can no longer be used in a generic sense without risking the ire of millions of moms who are very tired of "Mom" never just meaning "mother."

    Unless it is being used in an explicitly mothering-related scenario, it can be incendiary, as has been demonstrated here, for better or worse. A "Mom Test" for the plug placement on a breast pump? Absolutely! Outside that sphere, not so much...

  • Stephanie Piche

    Ellen, it is an insult. I am a woman, a mom and don't appreciate the term being used in the year 2010. Plus it clearly is an issue as technology companies create for the WRONG audience because of these stereotypes... when women are the biggest consumers of what is being developed - NOT the "Geeks" who are short in number.

    As a previous poster said below "I suppose you meant to be cute... but the right term for someone evaluating a product outside their area of expertise isn't "mom," it's just "layman." Lack of technical sophistication is hardly the sole province of mothers--a massively diverse demographic that comprises most females over age 35."

  • Gen Hendrey

    The whole "Mom Test" thing is bugging me. It makes sense to say Nerd Test or Kid Test (as another commenter did) since being nerdy or very young says something about a person's likelihood or capacity to understand some new technology, or their familiarity with the technology. But it doesn't make sense to say Mom Test since the word "mom" doesn't tell us anything about a person's intellect or relationship to technology, right?

    I suppose you meant to be cute, and you were thinking of your own mom, but the right term for someone evaluating a product outside their area of expertise isn't "mom," it's just "layman." Lack of technical sophistication is hardly the sole province of mothers--a massively diverse demographic that comprises most females over age 35.

    I'm a mother, and I can assure you that in my household, Mom will be performing the Nerd Test, Dad will be struggling to pass the Mom Test, and kid will be performing the Kid Test.

    Some will feel I'm reading too much into your choice of words, but you bothered to call the "my opinion" basis of the Mom Test "unscientific," while using more intellectually validating, yet not more scientific terms to describe what is also just an opinion--but from a nerd, and presumably, a guy.

    Have some solidarity with your female tech colleagues and the next time you're in a position to use language that puts women down a little, or excludes them from the nerd club...even if it's not what you meant...do us an easy but appreciated favor and pick a different word.

  • Stephanie Piche

    Wow - I am so offended, I don't even know where to start. Calling it a MOM test is ridiculous, Do you know that more than 65% of smart phone users are women and they are doing social media on them? Oh and the age group is 35-54 way ahead of the 24-34 age group. (Nielsen) Personally speaking, I'm woman, early adopter, love my Apple TV (which I have had since it came out). I do NOT like all the widgets that companies are trying to ADD to TV. I have Verizon Fios and LOVE it but NOT the widgets... In fact, most of my male colleagues tell me they don't bother with them either. Yes, there is a geek factor of how cool, but the masses are not going to do any adoption of this "en mass" for 10 years... if that. I love the innovation and over time it will be adopted but right now... I am happy to have the Internet on my 50' Flat Screen (when I want it) and access to web TV and cable as I choose. I will be cutting off cable soon, but as I'm addicted to some content I can't get on the web yet, I will still hang on to it for now.