Apple and Google are losing out to Boxee and Roku when it comes to Web TV systems, according to Q&A website FixYa.
Yaniv Bensadon, CEO of the crowdsourced help site, says he's surprised "to see tech giants like Apple and Google provide inferior products compared to competitors like Boxee and Roku." Characterizing the competition as a David vs. Goliath story, Bensadon insists that "Boxee and Roku are winning over consumers by providing a higher quality and less troublesome experience."
That's not to say any of the Web TV platforms are without complaint. But Boxee and Roku have generated fewer issues, as far as FixYa has seen. The site reports the number of troubleshooting requests it has received for the four devices as follows: 7,886 for Google TV, 6,762 for Apple TV, 5,480 for Boxee, and 3,456 for Roku.
A quantitative ranking of complaints doesn't mean much without sales figures to indicate the number of devices sold: If Apple has sold twice as many Apple TV boxes as Roku boxes, then Apple TV is generating fewer complaints per device than Roku.
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But according to NPD In-Stat, there are more Roku boxes in use than Apple TV devices, which appears to support Bensadon's assessment.
Keith Nissen, principal analyst for NPD In-Stat, said in a phone interview that some 3.6 million U.S. adults have used a Roku device in the last three months, compared to 2.7 million U.S. adults using Apple TV and 1 million U.S. adults using Google TV during the same period. No figures for Boxee were available.
A spokesperson for FixYa said that the site's assessment of the respective Web TV devices takes into account how easily the reported issues can be resolved. One commonly reported problem with Google TV, lack of access to Hulu online video content, isn't easily remedied--Hulu actively blocks its content from playing in Google TV's browser. The argument for buying a device with a problem that has no clear resolution at the moment is a tough one, assuming Hulu content matters to you.
Blocked content is just one of several significant obstacles that Google must overcome. Other recent stumbling blocks include the fact that Google's Android software wasn't ready when Google TV launched, that Logitech priced its Google TV hardware too high, and that Sony hasn't really pushed its Google TV-equipped Internet TV.
Apple has managed expectations better than Google, by insisting that Apple TV is a hobby while trying to figure out how to replicate its iOS empire in the living room--a real challenge when Hollywood content providers can't be brought to heel like contractually-bound iOS software developers.
Apple's TV ambitions are complicated by the need to accommodate third-party devices, like routers and TVs themselves, to convey content from the Internet to the living room. To make the experience easier for consumers, Apple is believed to be working on an Apple-branded TV for release later this year.
What are users of Web TV devices complaining about? These are the major concerns identified by FixYa:
1. Trouble connecting to iTunes – 40%
2. No sound from iTunes movies – 20%
3. Will not play music unless TV screen is on – 15%
4. Trouble using the iPhone as a remote – 10%
5. Other – 15%
1. Blocked content (i.e. Hulu, Viacom, NBC, ABC) – 55%
2. Difficulty connecting with home theatre system – 20%
3. Cannot record content – 15%
4. User interface is confusing – 5%
5. Other – 5%
1. Firmware update freezes – 30%
2. Audio drops – 25%
3. No Flash update – 20%
4. Browser crash – 15%
5. Other – 10%
1. Will not connect to Internet – 35%
2. Sound does not work – 15%
3. Game remote does not work – 15%
4. Cannot record content – 10%
5. Other – 25%
If there's any good news here for Apple and Google, it's that this market doesn't appear to be going away. Certainly, there's growth potential: Only about 5% of the 73 million broadband households in the U.S. have a streaming Web TV device, according to In-Stat.
The question is whether anyone can make a device that pleases both customers and content providers.
There's reason to hope that big media companies are more willing now to participate than they have been: Nissen says that video content providers are now actively looking for aggregation partners to help them reach new customers.
Ease of use appears to be the last major hurdle. "Nobody has really been able to come out with a solution to get online content to your TV really easily," said Nissen.