For Google, the Android TV platform — which includes voice-enabled search and content recommendations — represents a renewed effort to bring advanced features and apps including games to the biggest screen in the house. Its initial project to build out a TV software platform for consumer-electronics makers, dubbed Google TV, was introduced in 2010 with partners including Sony, Intel and Dish Network but never gained traction.
“We’ve simply given TVs the time and attention that we have devoted to phones and tablets,” Android engineering director Dave Burke said at the confab in San Francisco.
Google last summer launched the $35 Chromecast adapter — designed as a cheap and simple Internet-to-TV device, as opposed to the full app-enabled Android TV platform, according to the company. Google has sold “millions” of the low-cost dongles so far, and today YouTube sees more active engagement from Chromecast users than any other connected-TV device, said Rishi Chandra, Chromecast director of product management.
Chromecast, which doesn’t have an on-screen guide and relies on smartphones and tablets as remote control, was Google’s entry into the category to compete directly with other Internet set-tops, like Apple TV and Roku. Android TV is intended to extend the Android app and content ecosystem to CE partners, as a second prong in its strategy to colonize the living room.
On Android TV, YouTube (of course) and Netflix will be among the apps available in a special TV section of Google Play when the Android L platform launches in the fall of 2014. Other apps displayed on mock-up screens include those for PBS Kids, Travel Channel and TED.
Initial Android TV manufacturing partners will include Sony Electronics, Sharp and TP Vision. The entire 2015 HD and Ultra HD 4K television lines from Sony as well as the 2015 TV lines from Sharp and TP Vision will run on Android TV. Android TV-based streaming boxes from Asus and others are expected to launch in the fall, and Google also is working with silicon vendors including Intel and Marvell Technology for the platform.
One of the key features of Android TV is voice-based search. Burke demo’d the feature by speaking “Breaking Bad” into an Android smartphone, which pulled up listings for the show on the TV. At that point, a user can play episodes purchased from the Google Play store or stream them from another service like Netflix. He also showed off Android TV executing a more abstract query: “Oscar-nominated movies from 2002.”
Android TV’s home screen — which overlays video playing on the TV — presents recommendations, based on a user’s viewing history. In addition, Android TV is aimed to deliver games from Google Play on HDTVs, including multiplayer games. For example, Burke launched “Leo’s Fortune” on a handheld device, with gameplay popping up on the big screen.
Android TV is a part of the Android platform currently available today for developers, who can use the software development kit to start building content, apps and games aimed for display on TVs, Google said. Burke demo’d Android TV with a reference set-top called ADT-1, which Google will make available to interested developers.
And Android TV supports Google Cast technology, to launch video or music from any compatible device. That’s the same technology used in the Chromecast adapter. More than 6,000 developers have signed up to develop Cast-enabled apps since Google launched the program in February, and all of those should also work with Android TV.
Google also announced several new features for Chromecast: Backdrop, which lets users add new photo categories and personal photos from Google+ that are displayed on the screensaver; the optional ability to cast video to Chromecast from devices that aren’t on the same Wi-Fi network; and a feature to mirror any Android device to TV.
Also at I/O, Google showed off Android Wear, a previously announced platform to connect Android smartphones to wearable devices, and Android Auto — similarly, to connect devices to a car’s entertainment system. The company featured the LG G Watch, running Android Wear.
In addition, Google launched a set of hardware-reference platforms called Android One, designed to let manufacturers create low-cost smartphones for $100 or less.