Earlier this year, Google indicated that Android TV 13, the upcoming version of its TV operating system, would include expanded Picture-in-Picture (PiP) capabilities as one of its main user-facing changes this year. Google expects the new feature to be used by video conferencing apps and security camera feeds. At Google’s annual Google I/O developer conference this week, the new features were demoed for the first time.
Android TV has supported PiP since Android TV 7 and, therefore, has been in Amazon’s Fire OS for Fire TVs since Fire OS 6. The existing PiP capabilities are limited to the basic implementation that you would expect, which is simply a small floating window in the corner of the screen. On Fire OS, that window can be expanded slightly and moved to the center of the screen by holding the Home button on the remote and then either expanded further to take up the entire screen or closed.
The first improvement to PiP coming in Android TV 13 is the ability for app developers to specify important sections of their apps that shouldn’t be covered by floating PiP windows. If the user highlights or interacts with a portion of a foreground app that has been designated as important, the floating PiP window will automatically move to another part of the screen or move partially off the screen. The move is temporary and the window will return to its original location once you’ve stopped interacting with the important section of the app.
Having the PiP window automatically move out of the way is more important when considering the next change, which is the ability for apps to now use a wide array of aspect ratios for the PiP video. This will allow apps to create tall but narrow, or short but wide, floating video windows that can take up a large portion of the screen. Google envisions a video conferencing app, for example, to use this new capability to show multiple call participants at once in the floating PiP window.
It’s probably safe to assume that most apps likely won’t be updated with designated important areas that cause the PiP window to automatically move out of the way. That’s probably why Google is adding the next new PiP capability, which is to allow the PiP window to be docked to the top, bottom, or sides of the screen. Doing so will shrink the main foreground app slightly, so that the PiP window can fit next to it, for the sake of not covering any portion of the foreground app. By default, docking a PiP window will result in black bars across the top and bottom or left and right of the TV, to maintain the 16:9 aspect ratio of the main foreground app. However, app developers can specify custom views to be used when a PiP is docked alongside their app, so that the app takes up the entire available space and eliminates the black bars.
These new PiP capabilities of Android TV 13 look great and all, but they won’t mean much if app developers don’t bother implementing any of them. As it is now, there are very few apps that use the current PiP capabilities and I suspect that’s not going to change much once Android TV 13 is released with these new expanded PiP capabilities.
On Fire TV’s, Amazon’s own system apps are the main ones that use Fire OS’s PiP capabilities. I’m willing to bet that the vast majority of PiP use on Fire TVs is done by Amazon’s own built-in Alexa app that can display security camera feeds in a PiP window. My hunch is that Google, itself, needs these upcoming PiP improvements for some built-in security camera monitoring features that are coming to Android TV devices in the future.
Android TV 13 is currently in beta and is only available on Google’s ADT-3 Developer Kit. The final version of Android TV 13 is expected to be released near the end of this year, but it’ll probably be a bit longer before it makes its way to any consumer devices. These new PiP features will likely make their way to Fire TV devices when Amazon releases a new version of Fire OS that is based on Android 13. That usually happens between one to two years after Google releases the OS.