It’s undeniable that Google TV was a failure. The platform, launched in 2010, was too focused on creating an ecosystem built from an aged version of the Android operating system. Google attempted to bridge mobile and the living room with the Nexus Q, which was announced, but it was never officially released.
The release of Chromecast showed that Google realized that people wanted a simple way to connect apps and TVs with little friction. With that device, Google’s been successful. The price point is perfect given its function, streaming content from the internet and controlled by your smartphone of tablet. While supported apps are still lacking compared the amount of available Android apps, the platform does support many of the most popular apps.
When Google officially announced Android TV at Google I/O 2014, it wasn’t a huge surprise. What is surprising is that Google is designing a device that is an evolution of Chromecast and a rethinking of Google TV, all under the Google Cast platform. At I/O, I had a chance to see the developers kit for Android TV in action, and from what I’ve seen, the platform is promising.
Android on your TV
The developer’s version was quick, responsive, and already expands far beyond Chromecast when it comes to the types of supported apps offered. In a way, Google has created product tiers for people, and Android TV is built to replace the huge fragmentation of operating systems in SmartTVs. Various manufacturers have included their own SmartTV OSes before, but they’ve always been locked in to a specific brand.
Android TV will rethink that factor, offering a unified experience. Now, people can use Android TV regardless of what brand of TV they have. But Google isn’t ignoring people with old TVs: it’s supplying the tools for third-party manufacturers to create their own set-top box for Android TV. As of now, Razer is the only company who’s officially announced an Android TV set-top box.
One of the biggest additions, not supported on Chromecast, is the ability to download and install games from Google Play. This is a huge advantage over other set-top boxes, and it looks like it’s aimed directly at Amazon’s Fire TV.
Talking with the rep demoing Android TV, I asked what the expected price for the TV would be. His response was that it would be up to the OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) to price their Android TVs. I pressed him further, asking if the price would be comparable to Fire TV; his response, along with a sly smile, was that it wouldn’t surprise him.
An untapped market
There are a couple of problems with Fire TV when it comes to games. The first is that the controller is an extra $40 on top of the $99 price for the Fire TV. The second is that games have to be in the Amazon App Store, which doesn’t have the amount of games that Google Play does. Add to this the fact that Fire TV only has 8 GB of storage (compared to the 16 GB that I saw on the developers kit for Android TV) and that means you’ll be uninstalling a lot of games.
The quick demo shown at Google I/O showed apps like Eat24 and TED talks, but games have a big place on Android TV, and I was told that any app that’s on the Google Play Store will be compatible; the only thing a developer will have to do is add support for the controller.
Filling the gaps
Android TV and Chromecast are part of the Google Cast Platform. They’re separate devices, and you won’t be able to have the same functionality on both platforms, but I think it’s smart of Google to control the software side of Android TV and leave manufacturers the decision on how to build a new device.
Google is smart to fill two gaps with Android TV. It’s attempting to solve SmartTV fragmentation, as well as re-enter the set-top box market with a lot less risk. Since Google is positioning Android to unify across all of its platforms, this also lets developers spend less time working on one platform at a time, creating one app for one ecosystem that will work on multiple platforms.
Learn more about Google’s big announcements from Google I/O 2014.
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