Google has revealed that they’re working on a completely revamped version of the Android TV home screen launcher. The new launcher may seem like just a list of vertically stacked rows containing content recommendations, but there’s a lot more going on under the surface. Here are the top 10 things we know so far about the new launcher.
1. An app grid is still available
Google says their new home screen launcher for Android TV is a “channel based, content first experience.” If you’re not keen on that, you can just access all of your installed apps in a grid view. The circular icons along the left of the launcher are buttons. If you select the “Apps” icon, a grid view of your installed apps will appear on the right side of the screen. The app order in this grid can be changed by moving apps around.
2. An app “Favorites” row is always on top and customizable
The top most row on the new home screen is called the “Favorites” row. You can select the exact apps that appear here, as well as their order. The favorites row is always on top, just below the search box.
3. “Watch Next” row can be slightly customized or disabled entirely
Below the app Favorites row is a row called “Watch Next.” This is where apps will list content that you’ve started watching but haven’t finished. You’ll also find the next episode in a series here, if you’ve just finished an episode. It’s up to app developers to add these items to the “Watch Next” row. The launcher will not do this automatically. What the launcher will do is allow you to manually add individual pieces of content to the “Watch Next” row, to serve as your own watch list. You also have the option to disable the row altogether.
4. Content rows are called “Channels”
Below the search bar, favorites row, and Watch Next row are what Google is calling “Channels.” These are rows of content that apps can display on the new launcher. The individual content entries themselves are called “Programs” by Google. Highlighting a program will cause the background of the launcher to match the program image. You can customize which Channels get displayed on the launcher. I have not seen it demonstrated, but I presume you’ll be able to reorder the Channels’ vertical placement.
5. Apps fully control their “Channel” row content
The content, or “Program,” displayed in a Channel is completely controlled by the app generating the Channel. The app selects the Channel name, images, content order, text, and more. Video apps can list movies, TV seasons, episodes, clips, TV channels, and even events. Audio apps can list artists, albums, tracks, playlists, and stations. Instead of static images, apps can select to display video previews when an item in the Channel is highlighted.
6. All apps can add 1 “Channel” row without your permission
All apps you install are allowed to add 1 Channel to the launcher without asking for your permission. Google is encouraging apps to do this as soon as they are installed, but it is optional for app developers. While the first Channel can be added automatically, you still have the option to remove the Channel, using the customization options.
7. Apps are not limited to just 1 “Channel” row
Apps are not limited to just one Channel on the launcher. They can have an unlimited number of Channels available, but they all have to be manually approved by the user before appearing on the home screen.
8. Apps can bug you to add additional “Channel” rows
The new Android TV launcher has a Channel customization area, but that is not the only way for an app to get its additional Channels on the home screen. Apps are allowed to ask you, within the app itself, if you want to add a specific Channel to the launcher. So you can probably expect to see one or more Channel add requests the first time you launch new apps.
9. Pressing the “Back” button does not return to the launcher
After selecting a piece of content from a Channel on the launcher, if you press the Back button on your remote, you won’t be sent back to the launcher. Instead you will be sent to the home screen of the app providing the content. This is done deliberately by Google so content apps don’t feel like the launcher is taking away discovery within apps themselves. Remember, it’s up to app developers to create Channels, so expect some apps to ignore the entire Channel concept altogether because many will want users to manually enter the app each time content is played.
10. New launcher requires Android “O” update
The new Android TV launcher will come with the Android “O” update. Google just released a developer beta version of the new version of Android, and have said that the final version will be released “later this year.” Once the final version of Android O is released, manufacturers will still need to work on it before releasing it to their devices. The current version of Android, Nougat, was released last August and finally made its way to NVIDIA Shield TV devices in January of this year. The Mi Box has still not received a finalised update to Android Nougat, only a beta. If you go by those time frames, the new launcher probably won’t come to devices, other than the aging Nexus Player, until 2018.