Android TV Launches in Sweden
NOVEMBER 22, 2010

A Swedish TV maker last week launched what it claims is the world's first Android TV, promising an experience very akin to putting a giant smartphone on your wall.

People of Lava, a small privately-owned manufacturer based on the Swedish west coast, launched the new TV—aptly named Scandinavia—in Swedish stores today. The company hopes by next year to sell the set in major overseas market like the U.S. as well.

Internet-connected TV has been around for a while from vendors like Samsung and Philips, but these devices tend to offer "walled gardens" with widgets for predetermined online content like YouTube or certain news sites rather than the free browsing and downloading possibilities of a laptop or smartphone, People of Lava's Chief Executive Christian Svantesson said in an interview.

But the Android TV, which has been in the making since People of Lava's management team conceptualized the idea last summer, is set to change things.

Image above: People of Lava's Scandinavia brings the interactivity of a mobile phone to a TV set.

Maps. It also has its own application store where users can download additional content. There are only 20 or so apps in the store at the moment, but there will be more than 1,000 before year-end as it will be able to import many of the apps in the online Android Market store as long as they are scalable to fit a TV screen rather than a handset, according to People of Lava's marketing director Martin Ljunggren.

The TV, which runs the rather dated Android version 1.5, known as cupcake, comes with a remote control with a built-in keyboard. The company plans an app to control it with an Android phone, says Mr. Ljunggren.

Apart from the smartphone functionality, Scandinavia is a pretty nice TV in its own right. The one on display is a 55-inch flatscreen built with a composite including a lot of bauxite rock, which makes it surprisingly heavy at around 40 kilograms (88 pounds).

The hardware design is clean, in white, black and grey, and the screen responds quickly when I zoom around in Google Maps or scale up YouTube clips. Of course, it's priced towards the high end, at 40,000 Swedish kronor ($5,833 or €4,257) for the 55-inch model.

Though People of Lava only has around 20 employees, it has its own assembly line on the Swedish west coast with externally-contracted workers, which can produce up to 50,000 TV sets per year, says Mr. Svantesson. The company hopes to sell 200 million kronor worth of Scandinavia TVs in 2011, and aims to win a niche in markets like the U.S. and the U.K., where there has been significant consumer interest in the new Android TV.

Still, says Mr. Svantesson, financing of the planned expansion remains a hurdle. People of Lava needs €10 million to launch the TV in major markets like the U.S. The company hopes soon to raise the sum from an industrial investor or venture capitalist.

If People of Lava gets the money for a U.S. launch, the company will be up against consumer electronics giant Sony Corp which is just rolling out its own Android-based TV, building on a different solution that intermingles TV broadcasts and Internet content rather than running them side by side.

Google's own TV launched recently in the U.S., but unlike the Scandinavia, it is a more-conventional set-top box for an existing TV.

Still, the presence of Sony's "Google TV" may actually be good for People of Lava's business, because the much larger Japanese company may help establish Android as a standard for the broader TV market, making it more interesting for application developers to create content specifically aimed at TVs, Mr. Svantesson says.

Indeed, the TV industry is set for rapid change over the coming years as more manufacturers are likely soon to build "smart TVs" on software platforms from Google, Apple or Microsoft, bringing fully Internet-connected TV sets into the mass market, he added.

As yet another part of the consumer electronics industry gravitates into the world of cloud services, open-source platforms and application stores, new business opportunities will arise for the players in the sector, including not only TV manufacturers and app developers but also content providers and telecom operators who might for instance want to bundle their subscriptions with free TV sets in order to increase customer loyalty, Mr. Svantesson says.

Whatever happens, it will happen soon, he added. "Within five years, smart TV will be a mainstream household product.

(Source: Wall Street Journal )