Every so often, some enterprising computer company will claim they’ve finally fixed the TV. They’ll talk about how they’ve turned a dumb terminal into a smart computing platform that extends your work and play to a gigantic screen. Then, we’ll watch as the idea flops because they fail to line up content deals or wind up delivering a confusing, haphazard experience. That was the story of Google TV, which became the laughing stock of the industry after Google chairman Eric Schmidt bet that it would ship on the majority of new televisions in 2012. (He was sorely wrong.)
But what these companies seem to be realizing as their content deals fail is that they don’t need to “fix” TV quite yet. The proper opening salvo may simply be to put desirable content in front of people who use television the same way as ever.
Enter Android TV.
According to documents obtained exclusively by The Verge, Google is about to launch a renewed assault on your television set called Android TV. Major video app providers are building for the platform right now. Android TV may sound like a semantic difference — after all, Google TV was based on Android — but it’s something very different. Android TV is no longer a crazy attempt to turn your TV into a bigger, more powerful smartphone. “Android TV is an entertainment interface, not a computing platform,” writes Google. “It’s all about finding and enjoying content with the least amount of friction.” It will be “cinematic, fun, fluid, and fast.”
Google’s new vision for Android TV is less ambitious and easier to understand. The company is calling for developers to build extremely simple TV apps for an extremely simple set-top-box interface. While Android still lives under the hood, the interface will consist of a set of scrolling “cards” that represent movies, shows, apps, and games sitting on a shelf. You use a remote control with a four-way directional pad to scroll left and right through different suggestions, or up and down through different categories of content, each with their own shelves. Much like on other set top boxes, each item will be like a miniature movie poster or book cover, and you’ll pick the one you want. The controller will also have Enter, Home, and Back buttons to help get around, and there will be “optional” game controllers.
What makes it a Google product is that Android TV will suggest those pieces of content on the homescreen itself. While you can dive through a collection of apps and games if you want, the goal isn’t to have a user select an app like Hulu and then browse through things to watch. Google wants to proactively recommend things to you — including the ability to resume content you started watching on a phone or tablet — as soon as you turn your TV on.