Google was clear to point out that Android TV is not a whole new platform, but rather an extension of its mobile OS. This means that developers won’t have to make whole new apps for the new form factor, but will simply have to make adjustments to their existing tablet apps.
The company’s new Material Design aesthetic has made the jump to TV, and everything looks smooth and clean. The new form factor will support voice search to help users find content, and can be controlled with nothing more than a directional pad, meaning that the conventional TV remote will do the job.
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That said, users will also be able to navigate the UI using a smartphone or tablet, or even an Android Wear smartwatch. The product also supports Google Cast, meaning that it will be capable of all the same streaming features as Google’s Chromecast dongle.
In addition to the ability to control conventional television tasks such as channel switching, users will be able to ask Android TV simple questions or queries such as “who played Bilbo in The Hobbit?” or “Oscar nominated movies from 2002”, with the OS generating results using Google’s Knowledge Graph.
Pressing the home button on a connected smartphone or tablet will overlay a menu on top of the currently playing content, showing content recommendations, apps and games, without fully interrupting whatever you’re watching. It’s a simple but effect UI design, and one that seems to suit the entertainment-centric nature of the medium.
Users will be able to access games from the Google Play Store on Android TV, using either a gamepad, or a smartphone or tablet as a controller. The company demoed the feature on stage at the I/O conference, playing a multiplayer match in NBA Jam, with some impressive results.
The ability to play mobile games on a TV is one of the most touted features of Amazon’s recently launched Fire TV set-top box. With a wider selection of games in Google Play Store than in Amazon’s Appstore, Android TV is likely to prove a significant rival for Amazon’s fledgling product.
Interestingly, when it hits the market, Android TV won’t come in the form of a single product, but will be available through a number of mediums including full TV sets, set-top boxes and even games consoles. That's similar to the strategy we saw with the failed Google TV platform, but with a simpler, more user-friendly focus, Android TV looks like it could have a brighter future.
Speaking of the future, release details for Android TV are a little hazy at this point, but we do know that the full range of 2015 HD and 4K TVs from Sony and selected sets from Sharp and TP Vision will run on Android TV. Additionally, manufacturers including Asus and Razr will launch streaming boxes running on the platform this (northern hemisphere) Fall.