Along with the launch of the new Chromecast with Google TV, which we’ve just reviewed, Google is changing the name of the Google Play Movies & TV app to Google TV. The rename is happening on Android phones to start, though you can expect it to change on other platforms eventually as well.
The app is Google’s store for renting and buying movies and TV, and in truth Google is following Apple’s lead here. Apple uses its Apple TV app as the hub for all its video offerings as well, whether they are TV shows or not. Apple also uses the Apple TV branding in multiple ways — as hardware, app, and its own streaming video service.
Google’s TV offerings also are a little confusing. In addition to being the aforementioned app, it’s also the name of the Google software layer that sits on top of Android TV on the new Chromecast with Google TV.
Some time ago, Google tried to create a whole ecosystem of content around the “Play” brand. It’s still there: the Google Play Store is Google’s app store, Google Play Books will let you buy books and comics, and despite several years of starvation and neglect Google Play Music still has yet to completely shut down and be replaced by YouTube Music.
The “Play” branding no longer plays
What’s clear, though, is that the “Play” branding no longer plays, so Google is simplifying it to just Google TV. Let’s run down a few of the different TV products Google offers now, as a kind of glossary:
Google TV (the app). Formerly known as Google Play Movies & TV (and still known as that on phones that don’t run Android). We’ve covered this above, but the key thing to know is that it’s an app for phones. You can use it to rent movies or watch stuff you’ve purchased elsewhere if you’re signed up for Movies Anywhere. I suppose you could also use this app to cast video to… Chromecast with Google TV. This is a new dongle you can use to stream video either directly or via cast. It’s $49.99 and seems quite capable. It runs… Google TV. In the context of running on the Chromecast, Google TV is the interface you left/right/up/down your way through to find something you want to watch. It is, as you might expect, heavily focused on search and the Google Assistant. It’s also going to be offered to other TV makers who’d like to use it. The companies most likely to do so are probably already using… Android TV. Android TV is Google’s main television operating system, a version of Android that’s fully optimized for the TV layout. Google TV runs on top of Android TV, but is distinct from it. Think of it as a formal Google layer on top of the open source Android platform — because that’s what it is. And you know, one of the apps you can run on it is… YouTube TV. YouTube TV is Google’s live television streaming offering. It costs $64.99 per month, which is almost surely as or more expensive than what your local cable TV provider might offer you. Oh, speaking of, Google is also a cable TV provider via… Google Fiber TV. Google once had ambitions to provide gigabit internet to cities around the US, but it’s really dialed those back. When Fiber launched, it often offered a bundled TV package. Google has stopped offering this traditional TV service to new customers, but it still provides it to existing users. It’s one of several ex-products that lie in the Google Graveyard. And there’s another product in that graveyard worth talking about … Google TV (RIP, 2010-2014). The original Google TV was an ambitious product that had two completely impossible tasks: take on big cable and make web TV a thing. Oops, neither of those things happened, although the interface ideas championed in that first iteration of Google TV were quite good.
It’s been about five years since Google put the final nail in the original Google TV’s coffin (via Google+, but that’s another story). That is probably enough time for most people to have forgotten both Google TV and its very IR-Blaster-centric scheme to take over the living room. But we have not forgotten. How could we, when it gave us a remote control like this?
Instead of that label maker, the new Chromecast with Google TV has a remote that looks like this:
The march of technology from big things with lots of buttons to small things with only a few buttons continues. Instead of lots of buttons, we have lots of apps, interfaces, and services all called “TV” now. I hope the trade-off was worth it.