For more information on the origin and purpose of this series, please see Leanback Launcher Part 1.
tl;dr- We love Android TV around here and want it to get even better!
Leanback Launcher: Part 3
Welcome! If you are just joining us, Part 1 calls out the inability customize our app ribbon, while Part 2 calls into question the look and feel of the Leanback Launcher. Part 3 will conclude my crusade against launcher with perhaps the most drastic revision.
At this point, the only thing I haven’t talked about is glaring: The Recommendation Bar. It sounds like a great idea on paper. No need to even open an app or decide what to watch because Google knows what you want! In reality, it has been gimped since the beginning. From playing the incorrect YouTube videos to developers just ignoring it, the Recommendation Bar has been next to useless. COME ON, GOOGLE!
Again, I realize that a lot of the blame for the Recommendation Bar falls on the shoulders of app developers not properly implementing it. However, something that is going to be the centerpiece of your OS should be much more functional and polished.
Replace it with a Google Now/Multitasking Bar.
Google Now is the killer app for Android, so why shouldn’t Google Now be a big part of Android TV? It’s clear that the Recommendations Bar was supposed to mirror it, but why reinvent the wheel? And why reinvent it so that it is a worse version? Google Now already has a “What to Watch” based off of your interests. Fold the current recommendations into that and have the choices correspond with the appropriate apps . Give us the other Google Now information. Obviously, we wouldn’t need the “Near You” or “Stories to Read” cards. But I would love to have my “Weather” card or “Commute Time” if appropriate (while I am watching the morning news).
Even more fitting would be my “Sports Teams” cards. Every night this summer I used the MLB.tv app to watch the Pirates and not once did Android TV notify me that the game was coming up and I should tune in. Now, this is most likely MLB.tv’s fault for not implementing their app into the Recommendation Bar, but Google Now notified me every time and would even give me the option to launch MLB At Bat on my phone. I feel like Google Now could bridge the same gaps on Android TV. Another beautiful thing about Google Now cards are their ability to take feedback, asking, “Is this card useful right now?” This gives the user a bit more control and will ultimately lead to a better experience.
That was just one part of the revamp. The other part would be the need to implement a basic multitasking function. I have orchestrated a small cord-cutting revolution among friends and family so we often chat about the experience. In talking with my father-in-law (who also uses Android TV), we agreed that one thing we missed from traditional channel-surfing was the “recall,” “flashback” or “previous channel” button. We also concluded that it would be especially useful on the Android TV because of how “long” it takes to navigate between apps and launch different medias.
For example, while watching the Pirates play on MLB.tv, I would tune into SlingTV during the dead air commercial breaks. To return to my game I would have to hit the home button, launch the MLB.tv app, scroll to the Pirate game, select the home/away feed, and then wait for it to buffer and play. In reality, not a ton of work, but it is enough to make you think twice before surfing. Perhaps that is a good thing, but I can’t get past the fact that TV sets 25+ years ago had better multitasking support than the veritable supercomputers we use today! COME ON, GOOGLE!
While Android (and even Google TV) has a whole “Recent Apps” list, I think that would be overkill for Android TV. Watching TV is a single task 99% of the time. I think this is why Android TV didn’t bother with the recent apps (technically it is there if you hit “alt+tab” on a keyboard) and that allowed them to make the OS smoother/less intensive. But the “recall” button is so ingrained in our TV experience that I feel it is time to make its return.
I would suggest having the first card on the Recommendation Bar 2.0 always be the last app/media you were watching. It would be even better if there was someway to keep that app/media cached and ready to fire back up at a moment’s notice. On demand content would be paused while live content would continue buffering so you could return to it seamlessly. I realize having two streams going at once is a bit much, but hey, this is a wishlist! It’s not like I am asking for an ability to pin said card and achieve a streaming Picture-In-Picture (this would be amazing!).
I know you came for the sweet mock up so feast your eyes on this bad boy:
Keeping with Part 2, a home button press wouldn’t obscure the entire screen. The “Recall” card would be immediately available, and the rest of the ribbon would be filled with relevant Google Now information. The Recommendations Bar 2.0.
Final note: Google has recently stated that an update will be published soon that should improve the quality of recommendations. While it may not be exactly what has been proposed here, hopefully it will be a step in the right direction.