App Development

Google I/O From the Trenches: Android TV

Google I/O From the Trenches: Android TV

One major announcement out of Google I/O this year was Android TV. I want to talk a bit about the Android TV platform and the impact it’s going to have on developers and consumers alike.

What is Android TV?

At its core, Android TV is a platform for Android apps that live on your TV. The platform will be integrated into all Sony, Phillips, and Sharp TVs next year, with other manufacturers sure to join. On top of that, some OEMs will be releasing standalone Android TV boxes, and cable providers will be integrating Android TV into their cable boxes.  Later this year you’ll be able to purchase Android TV and place it in your living room alongside your other consoles.  Following that, you’ll be able to get rid of some of those consoles, especially things like streaming boxes, as existing Android apps are optimized for Android TV. Android TV and controller

The ADT-1

Google gave select attendees the ADT-1, which is the reference hardware platform for Android TV.  It packages a Tegra K1 processor alongside other outstanding specs, and it’s built to allow developers to test and deploy their apps for Android TV.  We were lucky enough at WillowTree to obtain a few units for testing, and will be posting more about our experiences with the unit later.  First impressions are great; it’s fluid and easy to navigate, and this is still just a preview release.

Why Android TV? What makes it better?

Honestly, I wasn’t excited about Android TV when it was announced.  Google has a history of failed television-centric product launches.  The Nexus Q and Google TV of old were especially painful.  Last year, the company knocked it out of the park with Chromecast, an inexpensive method of easily streaming content.  I had my doubts that Android TV would be able to replicate Chromecast’s success.  After attending a couple of developer sessions on Android TV, however, I’m completely sold on the product. Google is doing more than introducing a new set-top box or television operating system.  Android TV is a superset of Chromecast’s Cast protocol, so it will still allow users to easily stream content from their devices and other online media sources.  Additionally, Android TV packages full-fledged APIs to allow developers to bring their current apps to television screens quickly and easily.  As an example, TuneIn Radio was able to bring their Android app to a TV-optimized experience in under a week, with just one developer working on the project.  Google is providing incredible frameworks to create turnkey TV-designed views that work well with your existing app data. Another important point that Google drove home was consistency.  Android TV has standardized controller button mapping, remote button mapping, and remote app behavior.  Google expects developers to adhere to these guidelines, and this kind of consistency will drive Android TV adoption.  Additionally, Google is establishing aggressive hardware specifications for Android TV products.  This will ensure that end users get a best-in-class experience regardless of the hardware they choose. What’s going to cause developer adoption of Android TV? Recommendations. By optimizing your Android apps for Android TV (a very simple thing to do), you can also recommend content to Android TV users.  Recommendations are a totally democratic system.  Any app can post recommendations, and Android TV will filter them based on the applications that users use most.  By leveraging recommendations and consistently providing engaging content, application developers can ensure that their apps aren’t just popular in the pocket, but also feature prominently at home.

What about Chromecast?

Android TV is not just some strange thing that Google is introducing to compete with Chromecast.  Both products will co-exist.  The difference is that Chromecast is simply a vessel for the Google Cast protocol, the importance of which can’t be underscored enough.  With Cast, Google has created an easy and secure way of sending media content from your device to your television.  Chromecast is simply the cheapest option for using Cast, but Android TV is another viable option.  After speaking with many members of the Cast and Android TV teams, it’s apparent that Google still has big plans for Chromecast.  A $35 adapter that provides instant media streaming just can’t be replaced.

The future of your living room

Android TV signals the end of an era of television inconsistency.  Manufacturers large and small have been packaging different suites of apps with different behavior in their televisions and set-top boxes, which confuses users and makes it impossible for developers to bring their apps to a standardized platform. With broad industry support and an already massive ecosystem of Google Play Android apps, Android TV looks to be the platform to beat when it comes to your living room.  Stay tuned for more WillowTree posts regarding how we plan to leverage Android TV in many of our existing media apps, as well as a more in-depth look at the user experience on the ADT-1 hardware.

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