Today Google announced a number of items for their Android platform, talking both about new hardware as well as a bunch of software enhancements. Although not everything is related to Android TV specifically, let’s focus on what is.
Today, Google confirmed Android 6.0 Marshmallow will be rolling out to users starting next week. This includes OTA updates for the Nexus Player, and theoretically the rest of Android TV devices. However, there haven’t been comments from other OEMs about when their devices will get the update. There are a handful of new features for TVs, including vast improvements to USB mass storage.
Chromecast is like Android TV’s smaller, but older, sibling. Although both share the same underlying Google Cast protocol, the Chromecast has always been a cheap and simple way to make any TV a bit smarter. Google has announced the 2nd model of the Chromecast for TVs and speakers. These devices have better Wi-Fi than their predecessors, to make them load content faster and on 5GHz networks.
Refreshed Chromecast App
The Chromecast app received a significant overhaul today. One of the biggest new features is recommendations, much like on Android TV. Apps on your device can offer content for you inside of the app. You can also search for content within the app and choose a service to play it with. As you look for content, it will start downloading it so playback is faster. This is called “Fast Play”.
Another feature that will save a lot of annoyance is the addition of playback controls in the app. There’s no need to rummage through all your apps now; you can access pretty much everything within Chromecast.
Looking for more apps? One of the main sections shows more cast-enabled devices for you to download and use.
New Cast-Enabled Apps
A few more apps will be cast-enabled, starting today or in the near future. Spotify is a big one. People have been asking for this feature for years, ever since the Chromecast first came out. It’s hard to gauge the success of this move in the Android community however, since Google just announced a generous family plan for streaming music that is much cheaper than Spotify per month.
Another big mention is Google Photos. This feature was originally present in Google+ Photos but was removed when the apps split at I/O this year. This was an odd omission, but it will be rectified soon (ie. sometime this week). The team did add a clever feature where the screen isn’t being mirrored. You can cast a photo and continue scrolling through your collection without changing what’s on the screen. As someone who takes a lot of pictures, this will be a great help when giving slideshows.
Google said at their event today that the number of Chromecast enabled apps has been accelerating. To demonstrate this, they announced a handful of apps that you will be able to cast soon. Showtime, Sling TV, NBA, and NHL will all be coming to Chromecast. Like previous cast-enabled apps, you can see different content on the phone and on the TV concurrently. As an example, see the scores of football games on your phone while the TV plays the game itself.
There’s a lot of new stuff for casting, which benefits everyone in Google’s TV ecosystem. However, there are some Android TV owners who are a bit frustrated at the lack of news or even mention at today’s event. Although a lot of Google’s products were omitted today, such as Android Auto and Android Wear, Google’s previous lackluster focus on the living room has given users a bit of worry. As reported by The Verge, there isn’t too much to worry about.
According to Rishi Chandra, vice president of product management for the company’s TV efforts, Google sees these products as serving different needs. “We do believe computers will be in TVs,” Chandra said in an interview prior to today’s event. But he went on to say that Android TV is more of a bet for the future — the TV upgrade cycle for most consumers is still around every seven years, so maybe the next TV a person buys will be an Android TV.
In the meantime, Chandra said, “if you want to get thousands of apps, the apps already on your phone, and mirror them to the TV, then you cast it.”
With Android TV, Google is trying to play the long game. However, failing now like they did with Google TV would have greater consequences. The smart TV market is a lot more saturated today than five years ago. Amazon and Apple have just recently put hardware into that market and have made genuinely good devices that have development platforms. Whereas the smartest TVs were five years ago came from DVR widgets, Google has serious competition. Not only those two, but Roku, Microsoft (with the Xbox), Sony (with Playstation), Nintendo (with the Wii U) and many others are trying harder than ever to get a place in your TV.
The Chromecast has sold extremely well, and Google is smart to focus on that, but their focus should be twofold. My TV has two HDMI ports. From the plethora of devices mentioned above, I can pick a maximum of two to be running at the same time. If I don’t use it, it’ll be put away in a dark cabinet and be forgotten. If this happens to Android TV, Google’s third attempt will have to break into an even more saturated market all over again.
Microsoft’s Windows Phones are good phones, but they came too late and came without enough third party developers to make it compelling. Google has the resources to make Android powered TVs really compelling if they don’t squander this opportunity now. The Chromecast app just added features that have been on Android TV since the inception: searching for movies and seeing apps to play it in, and recommendations based on installed apps. While Netflix works well with Chromecast, the Netflix app on Android TV is disappointing. The ideas Google has are great, but the execution of those ideas for themselves and their partners is crucial to making a compelling, competitive experience.
Look forward to getting Android Marshmallow on your Android TVs, and playing with the new features in the Chromecast app. While Android TV wasn’t specifically mentioned, it wasn’t forgotten.