With a single swipe, Google product VP Mario Queiroz flings pop-superstar PSY’s “Gangnam Style” music video from his Android tablet and onto the big-screen TV behind him. We’re at the company’s Mountain View headquarters, in a short building filled with boxed and recently unboxed televisions, where Queiroz is taking me through the latest features of Google TV. As PSY dances and shuffles in the background, Queiroz continues to search for YouTube videos on this tablet and load up his queue with programming to watch on Google TV, it’s a new feature of the app being announced today. For a brief moment, I half expect him to break into the horse-galloping trot himself.
YouTube is Google’s killer app for attacking the living room–the service sees more than 800 million monthly visitors, who watch roughly four billion hours of video. Yet no company has pulled the big screen YouTube TV experience off–not Microsoft with Xbox nor Roku nor Apple TV. YouTube has always been best viewed on PCs.
But with today’s upgrade, which enables viewers to automatically pair Android devices and Google TV to watch and control YouTube via a smartphone or tablet, Google hopes to take advantage of the second-screen experience. (that’s the catch-all term used to describe the mobile devices you play with while watching traditional television).
“There is a lot of talk in the industry about the second screen, but we believe it’s important that we’re using a concept like that to solve a real user problem as opposed to having another feature, just so we can check a box,” Queiroz says. “The second screen makes it better, as opposed to just being another feature.”
Even Google has so far treated Google TV too much like a PC. That’s one of the reasons the service hasn’t gained much market share. One recent report from GigaOm indicated that there may be less than 1 million Google TV devices in use, and some hardware partners like Logitech are skeptical of the service’s potential.
It was an overly complicated and wonky system–just look at the original process for viewing YouTube videos via mobile device, for example:
To ‘pair’ your phone with your Leanback screen, simply sign into YouTube Remote on your Android phone, and to YouTube Leanback on your Google TV or computer with the same YouTube account. Just like that, you’ve connected your powerful multi-touch Android screen with the biggest screen in your home. Once connected, you can use the rich browse and discovery interface on YouTube Remote to find and queue up videos to watch, and send them all to Leanback with a single tap.
Google has finally streamlined that interface. In order to play a video from your phone or tablet on your TV, you only need the YouTube app–Android and Google TV will automatically pair so long as they’re on the same Wi-Fi network. “You don’t have to do anything–the app is automatically paired with your Google TV,” beams Queiroz. Making YouTube easier to watch on your television will make the experience easier to migrate from PC to TV. Mobile devices essentially act as the middlemen in this equation, and also serve as a remote, allowing you to control YouTube (pause, scroll, and skip) as well as search for more videos without disrupting your on-screen experience.
“If my daughter walks into the room and she has her phone, she’s also automatically paired on YouTube, so she can pick a video, add it to the queue, and then we are all choosing videos,” Queiroz says. “We don’t have to fight over the remote.”
The app also gives Google the opportunity to promote a feature that is unique to Android. In the latest version of Apple’s mobile software, iOS 6, YouTube no longer comes as a pre-loaded app–part of an ongoing confrontation between the two companies which most infamously involved Apple replacing Google Maps with its own (inferior) mapping service. Android owners now have access to a feature the almighty iPhone doesn’t have–though it’s unclear for how long that disparity will last.
As Queiroz told me, hinting at what’s to come from Google’s new YouTube app, “Here you use the YouTube app that you’re used to on your Android phone–or in the future, on iOS.”
[Image: Flickr user Dixie Lawrence]