Google is Getting Ready to Inspire a Dozen Fire TV Competitors
It’s only been days since Amazon unveiled their living room gadget, the Fire TV, and now new leaks suggest that Google is working on a similar product.
The Verge got their hands on documents concerning something called Android TV. Almost no hardware details are known about it, but it looks to me like Android TV is intended to do for TVs what Android Wear did for smartwatches:
Google’s new vision for Android TV is less ambitious and easier to understand. The company is calling for developers to build extremely simple TV apps for an extremely simple set-top-box interface. While Android still lives under the hood, the interface will consist of a set of scrolling "cards" that represent movies, shows, apps, and games sitting on a shelf. You use a remote control with a four-way directional pad to scroll left and right through different suggestions, or up and down through different categories of content, each with their own shelves. Much like on other set top boxes, each item will be like a miniature movie poster or book cover, and you’ll pick the one you want. The controller will also have Enter, Home, and Back buttons to help get around, and there will be "optional" game controllers.
Android TV will also support voice input and notifications — though Google is encouraging developers to only use notifications in very limited cases. In total, Android TV is remarkably similar to Amazon’s just-released, Android-based Fire TV.
Aside from the framework Google is providing to developers, there is very little here that hasn’t already shown up in existing smartTVs and set top boxes like the Fire TV, Roku 3, or the dozens of similar boxes and dongles developed by Chinese and other gadget makers.
But what sets Android TV apart is that it looks to me like Android TV isn’t a device so much as it is a platform for device makers and app developers to build on. If I am right them this could spur the development of not just one set top box running Android but a whole host of competing devices.
Google had previously shown interest in this market when they debuted the failed Google TV concept in 2012, but now it feels like Google TV is going to have the same status as Google Glass. The latter device has been sidelined ever since Android Wear launched last month as the newer platform picked up more press and more attention from developers, and I would expect Google TV to suffer the same fate.
It looks like Google already deprecated the Google TV brand last Fall, and at CES 2014 a couple of existing Google TV hardware partners showed off new devices, including both SmartTVs and set top boxes, which ran Android instead of Google TV.
There’s no word yet on when Android TV will launch but I would expect to see this soon.
Dave Z April 6, 2014 um 8:50 am
So Google TV still exists in the market. But in talking to one of their hardware partners at CES in January, it was clear Google was rethinking their approach for a variety of reasons including development/support and expanding the pool of potential partners. Not to mention a dozen "Android TV" sticks have also been released out of China and such (that Brad Linder has been covering) – they’re surprisingly cheap and functional. Back to CES, the Google TV metamorphosis was described that instead of forking Android for Google TV, they’d hit it from another angle of using a 10′ UI on top of Android. Analyst Michael Wolf also called this all like a year ago. Amazon is better positioned and more motivated with Fire TV. The others may/will likely give up on their platforms after a period of time.
Nate Hoffelder April 6, 2014 um 12:30 pm
I was aware of Brad’s coverage at Liliputing, but to be honest I hadn’t been paying much attention because I didn’t think this niche would amount to much (aside from earning Apple a billion dollars last year).
But now that I look back at Google TV, I can see that for some time now it had a lot of the features Amazon amazed us with this week. I wonder why it fizzled.
fjtorres April 6, 2014 um 2:09 pm
A lot of the features, yes.
*how* the features are implemented and presented is very different.
Google took the old and dated WebTV approackh of, basically, putting a browser on a TV set.
Ask Logitech how well that worked out.
Amazon, Microsoft, and Apple on the other hand are following the Roku TV-centric approach of presenting the user with discrete "channels" for different funtions. These "channels" may be different areas of a common environment or different apps but they are presented in TV-centric and living room friendly user model.
Android TV looks like turning the TV into a giant tablet, which is what the Chinese Android stick vendors have been doing for two years now.
All Google is doing is trying to bring a common set of interfaces they can control, both at the GUI, the programming, and the licen$ing level.
It is the third area where their $ucce$$ will be measured. 😉
(Basically, Google has created a monster with Android; a popular application environment and ecosystem that anybody can work off to develop royalty-free products. Which means, Google gets little if any money off those Andtoid TV sticks.
So now they jump in front of the parade with a big TradeMark branding banner to try to catch some licensing bucks.
Paul April 7, 2014 um 11:30 am
I’m not sure that Apple followed Roku. It seemed to be more of a expansion of what they were doing with front row on their iMacs (you could turn your iMac into a multimedia center. The iMacs even came with remotes).
That’s not to say that Roku and Apple aren’t bouncing ideas off each other all the time, but what I am saying is that the Apple TV is a natural progression of work they had already done with the iMac.
fjtorres April 6, 2014 um 2:46 pm
BTW, what Google is doing in Smart Watches and not SmartTVs is best described as Embrace-Extend-Monetize.
When they saw others adapting the free android version (without the Google-licensed parts) for watches, they took the idea, wrapped in Google licensed GUI and interfaces and offered it up "at modest terms". You saw what happened: Sony said no and Samsung moved to their own inhouse OS.
I expect to see the same thing happen to AndroidTV: the smaller players may buy into the Google embrace but the big guys will do a Amazon did; roll their own and save the license fees. No matter how good the Google bits are, they won’t be hard to replace.
Nate Hoffelder April 6, 2014 um 3:40 pm
Google hasn’t even picked up very many of the minor smartwatch makers, have they? I can’t recall seeing any headlines.
fjtorres April 6, 2014 um 6:06 pm
It’s too early for the me-too cloud.
Figure next E3… There should be a nice diaphanous bubble by then.
Especially if Apple does release their sportswatch.