Headlines: News on Your TV

You wake up, you make a coffee, and you want to read the news. For many people this used to involve unfolding the local newspaper, and that has moved to reading news from an app. Internet news can be siloed by each content provider in their own app, but it also can be triaged through RSS feeds. Users can use a single app to read content from all kinds of sources: news, comics, and blogs all use this format to make it easy to read.

What if you could read the news from your TV?

Headlines setup
This question has been answered by an app called Headlines. It was designed for the Amazon Fire TV and Android TV, both of which run Android under the hood. The setup process is fairly simple. You are able to choose two RSS sources from their list for the latest news. Additionally one can customize the base currency and two timezones. These play into some of the informational widgets along the bottom.

The app came as part of the developer’s personal project. James Krawczyk wanted a way to keep up with the news on his Amazon Fire TV stick and his spare monitor. Streaming video would cost a lot of bandwidth and would be too distracting, so he designed this app which would be more of a dashboard.

Video is something that the developers, Mystral Design, are looking at more, but it’s not the focus.

What’s it like?

Headlines main

The developers have done a nice job making something that works well on a TV. The app fills the screen with useful information: the current time, headlines from your news sources, and current stock prices in a bottom ticker. It looks nice and works well just as an ambient display, without interacting at all. You can see all the latest headlines and other information without diving into any menus.

Headlines story

Although TVs are generally suited to richer media such as videos or music, the developers have done a really nice job with the reader interface. The center of the screen becomes a web browser where a mobile site is loaded. You can scroll through the story with a big font and plenty of spacing. This is partially due to the developer’s strict control over what sources can be used. There are no current plans to support user-supplied feeds or feed curators like Feedly. There are plans to add more feeds based on user response.

Feedly is currently revising their APIs, so they are not currently allowing new developers to register, something the developers learned after a brief investigation.

What’s Next?

The next step for this app is porting it over to Apple TV, so that all kinds of smart TV users will be able to take advantage of this app. Then there will be the obvious tweaks to the UI and navigation.

Longer term, James envisions a more powerful type of dashboard for your TV or any other kind of display. We’ve seen ideas like this from hobbyists creating smart mirror apps on tablets or Raspberry Pis.

Dashboards – be it for news, weather, your calendar and social feeds, or maybe even a family board that you can send notes to from your phone replacing the traditional notes stuck to the fridge – are only one of the potential uses.

Live Channels is another area that could be great for news. Perhaps curating videos embedded in an article or reading a story through text-to-speech. However, the developers didn’t believe there was enough mindshare to make it a high priority feature.

Discussion on Android TV Marketing

When you create a TV app, what do you do next? It’s rather difficult. When you talk about apps, it’s assumed you’re talking about a phone. With Android, a single app can run on a watch, phone, tablet, TV, and your Chromebook. It makes it difficult to gain a large audience when the number of TV owners is still rather limited. You could go with a less organic approach, with paid marketing, but even that has some difficulties. James mentioned some difficulties he had in entering this new market.

Even running campaigns through AdWords where you select an App campaign it structures it as if it were a mobile app with no other real options

Selecting a mobile app campaign is not ideal. Users will click on the ad and not want to download the app either because they can’t download to their phone or because they don’t have a TV to download it to. These ad clicks cost the developer money but without any results.

An additional question is price. How does this new form factor change the price of apps? Should they be more expensive because there’s more space for features? Cheaper to drive more downloads? There’s a lot of new territory to explore.

There also isn’t a lot of information on pricing points for TV apps.

This is something that could perhaps be discovered over time, assuming more users get smart TVs and developers are able to market campaigns for TVs more specifically. In the meantime, there’s plenty of experimentation that will have to be done.

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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