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 2
Last time, I touched on the lack of customizability for the Android TV Launcher. This article concerns the general layout/behavior of the the Leanback Launcher. This one will probably be a little bit more about personal preference, but I am willing to bet that most will agree with my feelings (I could be wrong). So, let’s take a look at the current launcher:
This is the current look of the Leanback Launcher while “Live Channels” plays in the background. When nothing is playing, it will have a generic background, or it will pull background images to correspond with the suggested title you have highlighted. That last effect is really great for TV consumption and can also be found within apps like Plex and Kodi. I love it. The whole launcher is clean and smooth, and very visual. But, I suppose this is where I will start my critique.
First, the way that they have programmed the home button leads to some confusion. I feel that Google did the right thing here by allowing developers to choose what happens when the home button is pushed, but it has led to an inconsistent experience. What I mean is when I am watching “Live Channels,” and I push the home button, you get the screenshot above. The channel continues to play in the background with the audio as you are free to move about the launcher in search of your next activity. You can hit home again to remove the launcher and go back to your viewing pleasure. However, if I start to watch a movie in my “Plex” app and I hit the home button, the app is killed, movie is paused, and I am brought to the Leanback Launcher with a generic background. Now, I understand that this is Plex’s decision to program their app that way. But this feels disjointed. C’MON, GOOGLE!
I actually really like the videos continuously playing in the background, but others, like my wife, prefer the video to stop and the launcher to be its own app. Google needs to pick either one of these choices and stick to it. As to which option is correct, I’ll leave that up to Google. As I said, this article is mainly personal preference.
The Case for Stopping Playback
Because of how the launcher is set up (large and focused on single-tasking), there is no reason to hit the home button other than to start another activity. So it makes more sense to kill the current video (pause it, or free up a tuner) and have it be ready to resume when you come back to the app. Plex does a very nice job of putting your last played app, including your current place, front and center when you re-open the app. If all apps behaved this way, users would expect the behavior. Overall, it would be a better experience.
The Case for Continuous Playback
It looks cool! I love pushing the home button to poke around and see if there is anything better that I could be watching during commercials or when I am bored. Then, just pushing the home button again to return to my video is a snap. The major problem with this option is each app is different, and I don’t know what to expect when I hit the home button. While I am watching a Pirate game on “MLB.tv” and I hit the home button, does it keep playing? Am I going to have to reopen the app again, find my game, pick the feed, and replay it? As I stated before, consistency is key. If all apps played continuously in the background, users would expect that behavior, and it would be a better experience. They would know that they have to pause or back out of the video before hitting home if they wanted to kill the video.
However, I feel like the true problem here is lack of multitasking (an actual reason to open the launcher while video is playing), and just how much space the launcher takes up! I mean, C’MON GOOGLE!
There is no reason to actually have the video playing in the background because you cannot see anything going on behind it. In this case, just kill the video. But, it could be done so much better! Look at the options within the “Live Channels” app:
This is great. I can still see and hear the video while I check what else is going on. This is not new either. Google TV’s launcher only popped up from the bottom and their PrimeTime app was actually really nice by the end:
If there is a video already playing when the home button is pushed, allow it to continue playing. However, don’t cover up the whole screen with the launcher. In cases like these, the launcher should ease in from the bottom:
Daymond is impressed. Now, This is just a mashup of what is already in place. To truly make this behavior worthwhile, I would completely revamp the “Suggestions” row. But that is an article for another day (C’MON GOOGLE!: Leanback Launcher Part 3 coming soon).
UPDATE: Finish up with PART 3!