Google surprised everyone by suddenly releasing a preview version of Android N for phones and TVs about a fortnight ago. Now that the dust has settled from the big news, we’ve dived in to all of the big features that will be coming to Android TVs. As this is a developer preview, things are subject to change. Some features may be removed by the final version, and some things may be added.
TVs are family devices. There’s one in your living room, with a remote that can be used by everyone to pick the shows they want to watch. Historically, Android TV has only supported a single Google account. This means that only one family member will be able to access their movies, music, and get recommendations for them. It’s a problem that has been stated many times. Your phone, a personal device, gives you access to many accounts, but your family TV doesn’t?
It seems like there’s good news though. In the N preview release, users can add multiple Google accounts. Each app has to implement their own account switcher, but they’ll likely be fairly standardized like the account switcher phones have in their navigation drawers.
YouTube already has included this feature in their app. The UI is fairly standard. You click on the user icon and then pick from a list. Hopefully this will make its way to other Google apps soon.
Android has supported multitasking on phones for a while. Being able to quickly see what app has previously open and resume that saves users a lot of time that would’ve been spent in an app drawer or homescreen. Although Android TV isn’t meant to have the same productivity focus as phones and tablets, being able to switch between apps will still have a lot of time savings.
The multitasking menu can be opened by holding down on the back button. The UI seems to be early, but it will likely act just like the Overview menu on phones. It’s possible that it will also include some of the same switching logic Android N is introducing by quickly tapping twice on the recent apps button.
The ability to run multiple apps on screen at once is a great feature Google is adding to Android N. It will definitely improve productivity. However, productivity doesn’t make a lot of sense on a TV. At the same time, having multiple apps on screen is still a useful feature. Instead of multiple windows, Android TV will have picture-in-picture. You’ll be able to watch content while browsing apps for other content. Videos will live in a corner of the screen. Long pressing on the home button will open up settings and allow you to close the playing video.
Live Channels, a built-in app, is a great feature. Apps can act as channel providers, giving users access to endless amounts of constantly streaming content. However, the feature set of Live Channels is relatively slim. Android M introduced time shifting, being able to pause and skip backwards through content, but that still wasn’t enough for users. Many people have wanted a full DVR feature set, to record channels and be able to play them back later.
It’s something that Google added to the APIs in Android N. The TV recording feature needs to be added to each app individually, so currently no apps support this, but it’s definitely something that I’ll be looking into for CumulusTV and ChannelSurfer. Having a built-in DVR for this content is definitely a game changer and should help align Google’s plans for a modern set-top box.
The settings have been redesigned as well, switching from a grid layout to a list on the side. It does make navigation harder to reach bottom options so it’s hard to say if this will stay. No new settings have been added.
The OS is still buggy. I ran into a number of issues including a newly redesigned Settings crashing for some reason. There’s a new dialog box that gives options when an app crashes, and some will certainly be used as users continue to run a preview OS. It’s not hard to imagine future OTA updates cleaning up many of these issues, so you’ll have to be patient.
For those who are excited to learn more, stay tuned to Android TV News as we get closer to Google I/O this May.