[Updated Apr 9] — Leaked images and a CES 2014 demo of Google’s new Android TV user interface show a more streamlined and intuitive approach to the big screen than Google TV.
Rumors of the impending sunsetting of Google TV have been around at least since September when Sony, Google’s most stalwart partner for its struggling, Android-based Google TV, announced a Bravia Smart Stick media player. Sony noted “Google services” but never mentioned Google TV. The trend was confirmed by several unnamed Google TV partners in an October report by GigaOM that cited the “Android TV” name. In December, when Marvell announced an Android 4.2.2-ready, Armada 1500 Plus SoC update to the official SoC of Google TV — the Armada 1500 — the Android TV term was used again.
Leaked Android TV UI screenshots
(source: The Verge)
Amazon Fire TV
Now, less than a week after Amazon unveiled an Android-based Amazon Fire TV media player, Android TV documents were leaked to The Verge. The interface appears to be far simpler than that of Google TV, and “remarkably similar” to Fire TV, says the story. Android TV can be considered the big-screen complement to the small-screen Android Wear — despite the differences in screen size, simplicity is a high priority.
April 9, 2014 Update — A brief YouTube video (see farther below) by Charbax of ARMdevices.net also appears to offer a sneak preview of Android TV, courtesy of a Marvell demo at CES 2014.
(click image to enlarge)
The Android TV platform will include a remote control with a four-way directional pad and Enter, Home, and Back buttons, that can be used to select items that look like miniature movie posters or book covers, says The Verge. Game controllers are said to be optional. Google is said to have avoided integrating features like telephony, cameras, touchscreen support, or NFC.
The UI features scrolling “cards” representing movies, TV shows, apps, and games sitting on a bookshelf. Android TV also supports voice input and notifications, although “Google is encouraging developers to only use notifications in very limited cases,” says The Verge.
Android TV will recommend content based on previous choices, and prompt users to resume watching content already initiated on a phone or tablet. As with Google TV, a universal search feature is said to be available, and users can also search within applications. Apps include Google Play Movies, YouTube, and Hangouts, as well as third-party apps like Vevo, Netflix, Hulu, Pandora, and a variety of games.
As The Verge notes, even with this more muted approach to TV, Google could face challenges getting smart TV vendors to buy in instead of promoting their own Linux-based platforms. LG is pushing its WebOS-based stack onto products such as its LG Smart TV, Panasonic is experimenting with Firefox OS, and Samsung may yet apply Tizen to its own smart TVs. The story also notes that the platform will overlap with Google’s own popular, $35 Chromecast media player device.
Although The Verge made no mention of it, the earlier GigaOM story suggested that in licensing Android TV, Google will back away from the hardware requirements it imposed with Google TV, such as insisting on a keyboard. One unanswered question is to what extent, if any, Android TV, like Google TV, will attempt to integrate live TV with IP services under a seamless interface.
Marvell’s Android TV demo at CES 2014
Marvell Android TV dongle
(click to enlarge)
ARMdevices.net publisher Nicolas Charbonnier (aka “Charbax”) posted a 14-minute video of a CES 2014 demonstration by Marvell, showing “Android TV” running on a dual-core Marvell Armada 1500-Plus SoC. In the video, Marvell Video R&D Software Architecture Team Leader Gaurav Arora discusses Google’s smart-TV strategy, and how Chromecast and Android TV can both continue to play unique roles. Arora also demonstrates Android TV running on a “dumb” TV by means of a prototype Marvell Android TV HDMI dongle (pictured at the right; click to enlarge).
Arora says Android TV is basically standard Android with a special “Android TV GMS Package” of “lean back apps.” These are apps that are optimized for a comfortable 10-foot viewing experience.