Apple TV vs. Google TV: How do they differ?

apple tv vs google how do they differThe surging interest set-top media boxes such as Roku, Apple TV and the Boxee Box is starting to look a lot like the sudden buzz around tablets: Microsoft was puttering around with the same concepts ages ago, but nobody really cared. Now that Apple and Google have focused their laser-like engineering teams on the problem, years of antiquated GUI design are searing off in months as both companies work their magic on the long-neglected “ten-foot interface.”

While Apple TV has kicked around in various iterations since 2007 and Google TV hasn’t even hit the market officially, enquiring TV addicts want to know: Which will you be kicking back and watching this fall? In truth, despite the similar names and cutthroat competitors, they’re two different beasts entirely. Here’s how Google TV is different from Apple TV.

apple tv vs google how do they differ 1Apple TV is one box, Google TV is an ecosystem.

Google and Apple have both carried their smartphone strategies directly over to the television: Apple won’t let anybody else touch its proprietary Apple TV interface, and Google wants to staple Google TV onto as many boxes as it can. Google TV will be built right in to new TVs from Sony, available on separate set-top boxes from Logitech, and those are just launch partners, with many more to come. Just as it does with smartphones, this rainbow of vendors will translate to more choice for Google TV users, while Apple TV users have one box to do it all. Need composite video outputs, 1080p decoding or some other, yet unknown feature on Apple TV? Tough luck, wait for next year. Need it on Google TV? Just wait for some manufacturer to pump out a deluxe box.

Google TV has more power.

Apple recently redesigned the Apple TV to run on the same A4 processor powering the iPhone and iPad. Essentially, it’s a smartphone, without a screen, in a box. While that will make it a quiet, ultra-efficient power miser, it doesn’t leave much headroom for upgrades, either. By contrast, Google TV will run on Intel’s Atom processor – the same chip powering virtually every netbook on the market. Besides giving it the additional horsepower to pump up full 1080p video, rather than 720p as the Apple TV caps out at, it should leave room for additional upgrades, and maybe even the possibility of hacking hardware to run other desktop software. MythTV or Boxee, anyone?

apple tv vs google how do they differ showsApple TV acts as a storefront.

Apple makes a killing off of iTunes. Conveniently, Apple TV conveniently plants a storefront for iTunes in the middle of your living room, allowing you to buy Apple content from Apple. Besides the existing option to purchase both TV shows and movies through iTunes, Apple has also introduced 99-cent TV show rentals with the latest iteration. Google, meanwhile, has said nothing of opening a store for content. Every source will either come for free through the Web, from a cable box, or third-party providers. This might make the selection of popular shows smaller out of the box, but we wouldn’t be surprised to see providers like Amazon on Demand, Vudu and Hulu Plus lining up to hop aboard Google TV, broadening its appeal past what Apple alone can deliver.

Google TV has a Web browser.

Not everything you want to put on the big screen comes wrapped up as a movie. Sometimes, you want to show off photos from a Picasa gallery. Sometimes, you want to give directions to a friend on Google Maps. Sometimes, you just want to read your favorite site without squinting. Google TV will integrate a browser based on Chrome to do all the above – plus play all of your favorite Web-based videos. Apple only offers YouTube and Flickr.

apple tv vs google how do they differ appsGoogle TV has apps.

Ironically, Apple TV lacks the holy grail of expandability that rocketed the iPhone to success, while Google managed to cram it in. Google TV runs on Android, and it will run Android apps. Details remain somewhat scarce on Google TV’s app support, but Google claims that existing Android apps should eventually be able to run on Google TV, as long as they don’t use smartphone-only features (a labyrinth game that relies on tilt sensors, for instance, wouldn’t make much sense on your TV). More importantly, developers will be able to code Google TV specific apps after an SDK comes out, so anything a developer dreams up should – theoretically – become possible.

Google TV works with cable boxes.

Sure, we cut the cable and never looked back a long time ago. But the fact remains: Many casual TV watchers remain roped into existing cable service, and there are buckets of content that come through cable still unavailable from the Web. Google TV solves the issue by integrating with cable boxes and essentially acting as a DVR. Sure, you can watch back episodes of The Office online, but if you want to watch the latest one an hour after it airs on Thursday at nine o’clock, you can do that too.

Wrapping Up

Apple TV and Google TV will both pull the same trick that even the most basic media streamers have pulled off for years now – playing music, video and photos across a home network. Where they diverge the is on the extras.

Google TV attempts to pop an umbrella over every single source of content you might ever want to plaster across a 42-inch screen. Web browsing? Check. Cable TV? Check. Apps? Check.

Apple TV attempts to sell you content from Apple. And hey, you can watch Netflix this year, too.

Even without full specs or hands on experience with Google TV, it’s obviously entering the market as the better-equipped contender. But the details lie in execution. Devious as Apple’s storefront approach sounds, Apple has proven to make this closed shopping experience feel cozy and convenient in the past, and we wouldn’t surprised to see the ease of use combined with a $99 price point sell the more capable Google TV under the table. Google’s ambitious approach to interconnectivity with cable boxes and other hardware could also cause setup nightmares that negate all of its potential capabilities. After all – a home theater PC can already do pretty much everything Google TV will – but how many people do you know with computers under their TV sets?

Apple has already launched the latest version of Apple TV, and Google TV should be appearing later this month. May the best media center win.


5G phones make a lot of promises. Here’s what to really expect

There has been a lot of marketing copy expounding the potential benefits of 5G networks, but a lot less on the practical implications of 5G smartphones. There's a reason for that.
Home Theater

Want to mirror your smartphone or tablet onto your TV? Here's how

A vast arsenal of devices exists to allow sending anything on your mobile device to your TV. Our in-depth guide shows you how to mirror content from your smartphone or tablet to the big screen from virtually any device available.
Home Theater

Looking to cut cable? Here’s everything you need to know about Pluto TV

Pluto TV offers plenty of entertainment in a fashion similar to live internet TV services, only at no cost — you don’t even need to register. Too good to be true? Here’s everything you need to know.
Home Theater

Cutting the cord? Let us help you find the best service for live TV streaming

There's a long list of live TV streaming services available to help you cut the cord and replace your traditional TV subscription. Each is different in important ways, and this guide will help you find the best one for you.
Home Theater

All of the TVs getting Apple’s AirPlay 2 in 2019

This year, Apple made it clear it was done keeping its AirPlay wireless streaming technology to itself. With an open API, the way is clear for a plethora of third-party devices, including this growing list of TVs.
Social Media

Here’s how to save someone’s Instagram Story to your phone

Curious about how to save someone's Instagram Story to your phone? Lucky for you, it can be done -- but it does take a few extra steps. Here's what you need to know to save Instagram Stories on both iOS and Android.

Razer’s Wireless Charger will turn your desk into gamer heaven

The Razer Wireless Charger adds colorful flair to your desk or bedside table. It works with any phone that supports Qi wireless charging -- with some quirks -- but is it worth the high price tag? We take a look.

Stop dragging windows on your Mac. Here's how to use Split View to multitask

The latest iterations of MacOS offer a native Split View feature that can automatically divide screen space between two applications. Here's how to use Split View on a Mac, adjust it as needed, and how it can help out.

Need a new tablet? The best iPad deals for January 2019

In the wide world of tablets, Apple is still the king. If you're on team Apple and just can't live without iOS, we've curated an up-to-date list of all of the best iPad deals currently available for December 2018.

Here’s how to download podcasts and listen to them on Android or iOS

Podcasts have become a cultural staple. Here's how to download podcasts and listen to them on your Android or iOS device, and which apps to use if you're looking to get the most out of the format.

Apple banned from distributing some iPhone models in Germany

Apple is following the FTC's lead and has sued Qualcomm for a massive $1 billion in the U.S., $145 million in China, and also in the U.K., claiming the company charged onerous royalties for its patented tech.

How to use iOS 12’s Passwords and Accounts tool to autofill passwords

Keeping track of all your passwords and accounts can be a real chore. If you use an iPhone with iOS 12, then you don't have to. Here's how to use iOS 12's own password manager to autofill passwords.

The best Apple Watch bands and straps to stylize your timepiece

If you have an Apple Watch, you know how easy it is to take off the strap it came with, so why not buy yourself another one? Here, we've gathered the best Apple Watch bands we've seen so far. There's something for everyone.

How to choose an iPad in 2019: A practical guide to Apple’s tablets

Selecting an iPad from Apple's lineup can be intimidating, but it doesn't have to be. Our comprehensive guide should put the numbers and specs in practical, easy-to-understand terms. Find your ideal iPad with the help of our guide.