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.