The TV has for a long time been the one platform that tech companies have tried to embrace, but never managed to dominate. Experiments like the Apple TV, Google TV, Roku and a sleuth of other products have been making strides into the TV platform, attempting to replace cable solutions and instead relying on streaming and digital content only. Alongside them, services like Netflix or Hulu have become giants in the TV space, encouraging people to use them as their exclusive content providers and relying less and less on cable providers going forward. Google, of course, also had their own solution for this space, the Google TV, but now apparently is betting on a new product: Android TV. But what’s Android TV all about, and how is it any different from Google TV? Let’s find out.
Android TV is a new television OS that is Google’s newest attempt at penetrating the growing smart TV/set box market. While the name is a bit of a weird choice, considering Google TV was already based on Android, what seems even more bizarre is the fact that this product will carry the Android name, but have its own interface and design elements separate from the smartphone/tablet Android devices. There are still a few things in common, like the fonts and some of the iconography, but this is a bold new direction for the platform and it’s fairly obvious that it takes inspiration from some of the competition, or even services like Netflix or Hulu. The main interface uses a “cards” paradigm, not exactly in the same sense as on Android, where you’d be able to interact with them directly through touch or gestures, but with each card representing a different show or movie. Details would appear in the bottom section of the card, under the leading image, letting you know the type of content it is and other details.
Taking advantage of Android, the device will apparently also be able to run some of the existing apps for the Android space, although the leaked images seem to indicate that only a handful of apps are available, with the selection being reduced to the expected video service providers like Netflix, Hulu, Pandora or Vevo, and first-party Google services. So, basically, the box will rely on streaming content from third party services while also taking advantage from services like Google Movies and Google Music as well, consolidating all your purchases on a single library that syncs across devices.
It’s also worth pointing out that in the images a game library is also available. This might mean there will be Google Play Games integration as well, and Android TV might also serve as a dedicated games platform. While we don’t know the specs of the box at this moment, some of the games shown are somewhat demanding, so we are left to wonder if it simply will somehow sync with your other Android devices and run the game directly on them, or if it will act as a dedicated device with a controller to replace the touch interface. Another option might be that Android TV simply streams the game you’re running on your device to the TV and allows you to use the phone or tablet as a controller.
Another video is also available from all the way back in January of this year, where Marvell demos a new Google TV set top and is already talking about plans moving forward. The representative doing the demo claims that all Google TV devices will get an upgrade to the new Android TV OS, and you can already see some UI elements very similar to these leaks in what appears to be an early version of Android TV. He also claims Android TV is running on Android 4.2, which is strange considering 4.4 is meant to be more efficient and better suited for these kinds of devices. The hardware being demoed is also fairly capable and would be able to stream any sort of content up to 4k and even run demanding 3D apps. You can check out more details and a live demonstration in the video below:
It’s refreshing to see a new TV focused product out of Google, after Google TV didn’t exactly pan out, but the fact is that at this point in time, it has very competent and aggressive competition to go against, and may reach the party already too late to make any difference especially when game consoles like the PlayStation 4 and XBox One are already gaining traction and would probably dwarf it in terms of hardware. The fact it runs Android is, of course, a huge advantage, and Google already has some experience in the TV platform under its belt that lends some more confidence to its capabilities. However, we’ll still need to wait to see if Android TV offers anything substantial over the competition or if it’s simply just another device on the race for TV dominance.