Android TV to gain new home launcher and Google Assistant with Android O update

Google’s I/O developer conference started today and the company held their big keynote presentation where they ran through all the new updates coming to their various products. Much like last year and the year before that, Google spent less than 30 seconds this year talking about Android TV. Even though there was much more said about TV in general this year, it was focused entirely on how Google’s voice assistant interacts with Chromecast and YouTube. What was said about Android TV is that the platform would be gaining support for Google’s voice assistant and getting a new home screen launcher later this year when Android O, the upcoming version of Android, is released.

Google’s voice assistant coming to select Android TV boxes and televisions isn’t something we didn’t already know. This was first revealed by NVIDIA in January at CES, when they unveiled the new Shield TV. Despite Google’s assistant being a major selling point of NVIDIA’s new hardware, it might not be coming to the Shield TV until after Android O is released. If Google and NVIDIA follow the same timeline with Android O as they did with Android Nougat, it probably won’t be until December 2017 or January 2018 before the Shield TV gets the update. Hopefully the Shield TV gets the new voice features before then.

The other Android TV news announced is that the Android O update will bring with it a new home screen interface. Nothing was said about the new interface during the keynote presentation today, but CNET has received an early demonstration.

The new Android TV home launcher consists of a series of stacked rows you can scroll through vertically and then scroll into horizontally. Some rows are generated by Android TV itself, like the Apps and Watch Next rows at the top, while others are generated by apps installed on the device. On the left of each row is a menu, of sorts, indicating which app generated the row and what the row contains. The new Android TV interface is very reminiscent of the old Fire TV interface, due to the menu on the left and stacked rows of content on the right.

In the top-left of the new interface is a search box, with the time and settings menu on the right. Below that is a row for apps and below that is a Watch Next row. The Watch Next row is similar to Amazon’s upcoming Continue Watching Recommendations for the Fire TV, in that it will display the next episode in a series you’re watching and content that you’ve started watching but haven’t finished.

Below the search, app, and Watch Next rows, which seem to always be on the top, are rows from various apps you have installed, as well as recommended content from Google Play. It’s not clear if you’ll be able to customize the rows being displayed or if they’ll be selected for you.

It looks like some apps will not be limited to just one row of recommended content. This might just be for Google’s own apps, like the YouTube app, which can be seen above with a “Trending” row and a “360 Videos” row. On that subject, Google did also announce that support for 360 degree video would be coming to their YouTube apps for TVs. You’ll be able to use the directional arrows on your remote to look around the 360 degree video. It’s unknown if this functionality will be coming to their HTML 5 YouTube apps, which is what the Fire TV uses, or if it will only be available through native YouTube apps.

For those of you hoping for new Android TV Nexus/Pixel hardware from Google, there was nothing announced along those lines. There was no new Android TV hardware revealed from any manufacturers, but the conference lasts several days, so there’s still time. It was during Google I/O last year that Xiaomi announced they would be releasing the Mi Box, so perhaps a similar announcement will be made in the coming days.

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9 comments
  1. boudyka says:

    I was under a sad delusion or misunderstanding that Google Assistance came with the Nvidia Shield TV 2017 back in January….?

    Good thing I haven’t spent the cash…….that’s a serious bummer or misrepresentation depending on your viewpoint

    • AFTVnews says:

      Yeah, it seems like someone dropped the ball there. NVIDIA’s site still says “Available early 2017” for Google Assistant on the Shield TV. Google seems to be talking it up as an Android O feature, yet it’s being demoed on Shield TVs running Nougat, so who knows.

  2. TechyChris says:

    Just read an article that Nvidia is launching their own cloud service later this year to directly compete with Amazon and Google, another possible reason to migrate towards the Nvidia ecosystem!

  3. Craig says:

    Although I’m glad there’s a new launcher? The fact that you’re gonna have to wait for firmware updates to get it? Especially from the likes of Sony, Nvidia & Xiaomi, who will all take forever to push em out? Is a real glaring turn off with Android TV.

    Combine that with the fact that obviously companies like DirecTV, Amazon and Vudu seemingly have to negotiate with OEMs for their apps on these devices is seriously making me rethink my Android TV investment.

    It’s one thing when a box comes from Amazon, with an Amazon firmware, of which both come from Amazon. Along with the political and technical negotiations done between one company and dev. It’s a whole nother ballgame when you have to wait for Google to push out the code and the wait forever for OEM’s to tweak it for their own respective hardware and then wait for devs to negotiate politics and tweaks to support their apps on every Android TV. Cause Android TV’s are not being supported equally, whether it be for technical reasons or political reasons. It’s beginning to feel like each dang Android TV box is its own ecosystem. So why have the Play Store if this is gonna be how the app game is going to be played??? Makes me just wanna buy Fire TV’s and Chromecasts entirely and be done with it!

    • Kawshik Ahmed says:

      VUDU is now available on every Android TV devices via Play Store (only selected devices will have 4K others will have 1080P)
      DirecTV Now is now available on LeEco Android TV and will available to others after the exclusivity expires (probably next month)

  4. Ichijoe says:

    I’m not so sure about this ‘new’ launcher. The current One may not be everyone’s cup of Tea. But, I’d be pressed to cite a better TV centric launcher, than Leanback. And this possible replacement is just crap. But, than again I don’t think there were any App / Game Rows on display. So perhaps it may end up being better than it appears. Though I really doubt it.

    • Pawdog says:

      Well it’s not crap. It is however really,really different. It’s just as fast to get to some stuff and sometimes much faster to get to other stuff. Every row is movable and removable.

  5. Google is one of the bigger players in our universe, even the biggest, because behind its big shiny doors dwells the Android operating system. The decisions the company makes out at the Googleplex in Mountain View always have a direct influence on what happens in the entire consumer electronics ecosystem. We are therefore excitedly anticipating what Google will bring to the table this year.

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