TV Remote App Gets Gamepad for Phone, Watches, and Android TVs

Just in time for the weekend, Google just pushed another update for their TV Remote app, to version 2.0. As hinted at in Android Police’s recent teardown, users can now open up a virtual gamepad on their phone and access a much larger range of buttons: A, B, X, Y, triggers, and multiple joysticks. Yet Google hasn’t stopped there. Let’s dive in to all the new features that are being to the app across phones, Android Wear, and even Android TVs.

Android Wear

Each button has a small touch target
Each button has a small touch target

Being able to control your TV from your watch is neat, but so far you have only been limited to a few DPAD actions. This has only been good for basic navigation, but trying to do anything more complicated has been frustrating or impossible. Google has brought the same full gamepad layout from the phone to the watch.

It works better on larger watches like the Moto 360 than on some of the smaller women’s watches, but other than that it works really well. It uses the built-in vibration motor for haptic feedback so it feels just like you’re pressing real buttons. It’s also using what Google is calling “smart buttons”, which should increase the size of the most frequently used buttons slightly so that you don’t mistap as often.

At first I had a hard time adjusting to only being able to use one hand do play every game. However, the screen size is also smaller, so every button can be reached with a single hand. As humans have more fingers than hands, it’s easy to see that this should at least double your efficiency. Testing this out myself, it actually improved my racing time in Riptide GP2 by an average of ten seconds. I’m sure users will see similar improvements in other games.

I think this change is so monumental that it’s a bit unfair to traditional gamers. I hope developers add in some switch to make games harder if the user is wearing a watch, because otherwise the leaderboards will be full of players using the gamepad on their watch.

Android TV

Selecting the LEFT key will send that key to another TV
Selecting the LEFT key will send that key to another TV

When I saw that the remote app was now compatible with my Shield, I was really confused. As it turns out, the remote control app now works with multiple Android TVs, for those subset of users who have more than one in the house. The layout looks similar to a phone, and it works a lot like it too. You can connect your TV to other Android TVs in the house and control them remotely.

The method for input is kind of bizarre. The keys on your remote don’t bind to the app directly. Each button can be highlighted by moving around with the DPAD. In order to move left, you have to move your cursor over the left directional key and then press enter on your physical remote. Using a virtual gamepad actually means you have to frantically move a cursor around on the screen just to press a single action.

Conclusion

For better or worse, Google continues to make huge innovations in our human interfaces. I expect Google will continue to tune these systems in future updates. The app update is rolling out now, so you should be getting it soon. Oddly enough, the update isn’t available on APK Mirror right now but it should be published soon.

Nick Felker

Nick Felker

Nick Felker is a student Electrical & Computer Engineering student at Rowan University (C/O 2017) and the student IEEE webmaster. When he's not studying, he is a software developer for the web and Android (Felker Tech). He has several open source projects on GitHub (http://github.com/fleker)Devices: Moto G-2013 Moto G-2015, Moto 360, Google ADT-1, Nexus 7-2013 (x2), Lenovo Laptop, Custom Desktop.Although he was an intern at Google, the content of this blog is entirely independent and his own thoughts.

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