Some Google Apps Gain Early DPAD Support

We recently received a tip about a handful of Google Apps. The claim was that some recent app updates: Chrome, Drive, Slides, and Gmail; have all added support for DPADs and they theorized that Android TV support could be coming soon. The claim was fascinating, so we did an investigation and while the tipster had the right claim, their hypothesis may not be correct.

After downloading the apps and running through each one, the user experiences were compiled into a video which you can see below. All were done on an NVIDIA Shield TV running Android 6.0 Marshmallow.

Drive

Drive’s main interface is relatively simple. You have a list of items either in a grid or a list. DPAD support is pretty easy to add. You can move around, selecting items. Moving right on a grid will select the next item whereas moving left will select the overflow / info menu of the item to the left. It’s an odd pattern as to select anything you need to navigate right to that point. If you go past it accidentally you need to start over.

Overall, DPAD support seems limited just to the main activity. The Y button allows for a “Page down” sort of option, although there doesn’t seem to be any other key shortcuts done with the app. Opening up files works, but I have control control in instances such as playing music.

You can use the code HF29B9C in #SIDELOADLAUNCHER.

Chrome

Google Chrome has had secret support for Android TV through the web Play Store, although it has never really supported Android TV. However, this seems to have changed recently. This new update binds a number of gamepad controls to the browser. The browsing experience is still the same, with either being able to simply scroll or use a mouse. If you want to do more than just browse, you can take advantage of these new features.

The left and right trigger buttons will zoom out and zoom in on the page, respectively. The left and right shoulder buttons allow you to quickly switch tabs akin to Ctrl + Tab on Windows. The Y button opens the overflow menu (a nice action, although one not shared in the other apps). The X button focuses on the omnibox, allowing you to enter a new query or site. Pressing back in this mode will close the tab.

You can use the code JCBCQXR in #SIDELOADLAUNCHER.

Slides

While there’s an advantage to being able to show slides from your TV, it may not make a lot of sense to show the entire editor. Nevertheless you can download the Slides app. The main activity, the grid of presentations, is navigable through a DPAD. You’re selecting an item from a grid. Each slideshow opens up in its editor view as expected. However, you can’t do much else with your DPAD. Going up/left or down/right will move you throughout the slides. Pressing Y will again page down. Pressing X will delete a slide, much to my chagrin. No other buttons seem to have an action. I cannot change focus from the slide navigation.

You can use the code GSLIDESV16 in #SIDELOADLAUNCHER.

Gmail

I’m sure we’re all wondering why you’d want email on your TV. Well, regardless of that answer Gmail does have limited support for DPADs. You can move around the app, selecting the navigation drawer, search, or compose window. However, navigation through email isn’t great. There is some sort of visual selector which only seems to go down. If you try going up, it keeps the selector on that email while you scroll up. It’s shown more clearly in the video. Again, Y will quickly scroll down. There is no button to archive or delete an email.

You can use the code Z6ZJ6RD in #SIDELOADLAUNCHER.

Why?

After seeing these experimental DPAD implementations, you may be wondering why Google is doing this. Have they decided to add Leanback support to a bunch of apps? Not necessarily. There are more reasonable explanations.

Via Endgadget: https://www.engadget.com/2010/05/27/hd-101-overscan-and-why-all-tvs-do-it/

First, understand that Google is not shipping every Android TV with the Google Drive app. On a phone it’s an app that will always exist while that same rule has not applied to televisions. Changing that now would not mean users get the app automatically. It may require updates from each OEM, which is already not a trivial task.

While the API exists, a developer must build their own visual component. This updated Drive app lacked overscan support so on my lackluster TV set it didn’t look nice. There’s also no Leanback launcher and no indication of one. Having a file management app on your TV may not make sense for most consumers. This also applies to Slides and Gmail. Chrome, although much nicer, is still not capable of browsing a website with a DPAD. The fact that many core features were not present, such as being able to present a presentation, indicate TV is not the target form factor.

Why the update? Well, it likely has more to do with Google’s other platforms. Chromebooks have recently gained support for running Android apps., devices that have keyboards and a trackpad instead of a mouse. Adding keyboard shortcuts to Android apps would help Chromebook users feel at home by taking advantage of these new inputs. With Google pushing that area for productivity, most of these updates make sense. The Y button I’m pressing may actually correspond to a different key than I think. The same with other keys. Multiple buttons can be linked to a single key or vice versa. The X button may press the X gamepad button or the delete key.

I don’t know why Chrome has added such nice support for gamepads. However, given that Google is preparing to launch Daydream VR soon, where users will explore VR alongside a controller, this may imply Google Chrome will be getting a VR app to experience VR websites.

Of course, Android is an open platform, and Android TV is primarily Android with some fancier frameworks on top. If Google makes improvements to its apps for one reason, other users may see a victory as well. Although Android TV may not have a native Google Drive app, you can be relieved that support for TV is already included thanks to work with other platforms. Have you discovered any other Google apps that work alright on TV? Let us know in the comments below.

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.

More Posts - Website

Follow Me:
TwitterLinkedInGoogle PlusReddit