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Android May Paddle Samsung Canoe Into Turbulent Web TV Waters

Samsung may begin building televisions with the Android operating system built in, Bloomberg reported on Tuesday.

Yoon Boo Keun, head of Samsung’s TV business line, reportedly said the company is reviewing whether to use Android, an OS more commonly found in various smartphones, in a new line of TV sets.

Samsung is working on an operating system that can be used for both mobile phones and television, Yoon apparently revealed.

The Korean electronics could be stepping into a confusing market — it has its own Bada mobile phone OS and also makes Android smartphones. Further, it has just revealed an Android-based tablet, the Galaxy Tab.

That’s not all — other TV manufacturers are working on their own OSes, some Android TVs have been unveiled, and Google announced Tuesday that it will launch Web TV in the United States this year and worldwide in 2011. In short, the situation’s a mess.

Samsung and Web TV

“A relationship with Google TV is currently under consideration,” Gabrielle Gugliocciello, at Samsung TV’s public relations agency Weber Shandwick, told TechNewsWorld.

However, Samsung is reportedly working on its own Web TV OS. Further, it already offers several apps for TV and video. These include the AP News Ticker and AccuWeather; the “Blackjack” and “Chuzzle” games, CinemaNow and Math Series.

Sony, an official Google TV partner, demoed a Google TV prototype running Android 2.1 at the IFA 2010 consumer electronics show in Berlin on Tuesday. Meanwhile, Scandinavian firm Lava unveiled a family of Android TVs at the show.

More TV manufacturers may be planning to enter the Android market.

“I believe there will be more players announcing partnerships with Google,” Riddhi Patel, a director at iSuppli, told TechNewsWorld. “I wouldn’t be surprised to see Samsung and [LG] announcing their Android-based products.”

Given that Sony and Lava have already come out with products, and more competition may be waiting in the wings, will Samsung lose out in the Android TV market?

Possibly not, Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group, told TechNewsWorld.

“This will be a slow roll-out both because of the cost of the solution and the fact that lots of folks have bought TV sets recently,” Enderle explained. “These factors, and the noise around 3D TVs going on now, will make penetration of the market by Android TVs slow,” he added.

Heads I Win; Tails You Lose

Further, Samsung may be taking a cautious approach that could be justified by the current market confusion. This could affect the dynamics of the market.

“Samsung’s currently working on its lineup of Internet enabled TVs (IETVs),” iSuppli’s Patel pointed out. “Given that they’re the leaders in the market, their approach will to some extent drive the market, and if they’re waiting it out to see the acceptance of Google TV, other manufacturers will be cautious too,” she opined.

“I think the major TV manufacturers are hedging their bets across the board on all the different technologies,” Kurt Scherf, a vice president at Parks Associates, told TechNewsWorld. “This market is so unsettled right now, and the major manufacturers are looking at developing their own operating systems,” he added.

“Sharp, Panasonic and Samsung are already developing solutions internally, while others like Sony are taking some risk and working closely with Google to provide a richer, broader Internet-based experience to their customers,” Randy Lawson, a principal analyst at iSuppli, told TechNewsWorld.

That could lead to fragmentation of the market as TV manufacturers grope for the best solution.

“It wouldn’t surprise me to see manufacturers deploying TVs implementing different operating systems to see what the consumer uptake is like, how well they can implement the Internet features that will matter to consumers, and what new revenue streams can be created,” Scherf said.

What About Google’s Plans for Chrome?

TV manufacturers planning to debut products running Android face yet another problem — Google’s own plans for the future. Google is the elephant in the room, and elephants can do what they want, when they want and where they want.

For instance, Google CEO Eric Schmidt announced at IFA 2010 on Tuesday that the company will launch Google TV in the United States later this year and take it worldwide next year. But he also said Google will announce partnerships later this year with tablet manufacturers using the Chrome OS.

Wouldn’t it make sense to have tablets and Web TVs run the same operating system so apps can be seamlessly streamed between devices? That’s what Apple’s doing — consumers will soon be able stream content from an iOS device to Apple TV using Apple’s AirPlay feature.

“The requirements and uses of tablets and Web TVs are still different,” iSuppli’s Patel pointed out. “The tablet is more for personal use while the TV is a family use device. Thus, I don’t believe we need one OS,” she said.

“Chrome OS is for a product that is primarily Internet content-driven and that primarily runs Web apps, whereas Android targets products that will run more system apps along with Web-based apps,” iSuppli’s Lawson said. “Android has been primarily focused on handsets but is moving into other product categories like table PCs and now TVs, and I think that will remain the focus for Google.”

On the other hand, Google’s announcement about Chrome may have roiled the market further.

“This announcement creates a certain amount of confusion which will slow down the adoption of Android TV even further,” Enderle warned.

“Android was only supposed to be for small form-factor products, and TV is one of the areas ideal for the Chrome OS,” Enderle pointed out. “Once the Chrome OS is out, Google may pull much of its support for Android products that fall outside of its more sharply defined product specs.”

Google did not respond to requests for comment by press time.

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