Concept of Leanback Launcher Shortcuts

One of the new features in Android 7.1, a minor update to Nougat, is App Shortcuts. This allows apps to specify specific actions the user can take right from the homescreen. While the notification drawer can be a powerful way to respond to events, app shortcuts lets users open apps for a specific purpose. Many examples already exist in Google’s apps.

Screenshot taken from Android Police
Screenshot taken from Android Police

YouTube, for example, has quick shortcuts to open the Trending video list, your subscriptions list, or directly start a video search. These conveniences can make user’s lives a little more efficient. As software and apps become more complex, we’ll be developing new paradigms for interaction.

While this is available in Google’s Pixel Launcher, and likely coming to other launchers soon, there has not been any mention of this feature coming to Android TV. The Leanback Launcher is fairly static, not displaying widgets, shortcuts, or anything else. It’s simplicity also can make it inefficient for power users. What if app shortcuts came to Android TV? What would they look like? What would they do? We take a look at the concept below.

Shortcut Row

YouTube App Shortcuts
Much like on a phone, you view the app shortcuts with a long click. Then a row will expand below the selected app and focus on one of the actions. You can move left and right to select a new action. The first card to be focused should be the center based on the first item. Then the second item would be on the left, and it would continue to fan out. By centering it, users can get to each action with the fewest number of clicks.

Here we add three actions in the YouTube app: Live streams, popular, and subscriptions. Search is fairly easy to access on TVs, and I figured live content would be far more interesting on a TV than on a phone. Since these actions are all defined in XML, the developer could place phone shortcuts in xml and the TV shortcuts in xml-tv.

It should be noted that using the Leanback library, a lot of apps have a very shallow navigation tree. The categories are all on the left and the content is on the right. It’s not hard to go from the app open to the “Popular” section.

Google Play Store Shortcuts

In this Google Play Store example, app shortcuts don’t make much sense. How much time do I save? While it may be nice to have these shortcuts, they don’t provide much value.

Dynamic Shortcuts

While apps can define static shortcuts, the dynamic ones are more interesting. If I’m messaging one person frequently, a messenger shortcut could let me directly open up that conversation. A maps shortcut could point me directly to home or work. There are also a lot of interesting implementations around media.

Google Play Movies shortcuts

In this concept for Google Play Movies, we can directly open our library, as expected. On the left we can open up the channel in Live Channels, which would be a great way to discover new content and help promote that feature / channel.

Last night I was watching a movie but stopped halfway. Using the dynamic shortcuts, the app created a shortcut to let me quickly resume that movie. This is really where media apps could benefit. A cold launch of a media app surrounds me with content that I may not want and dilutes what I’m trying to find. Having a simple shortcut to resume the video gets me out of the browsing experience and directly to what I want. It’s similar to the recommendations, but more focused around the specific app you’re going to open.

With many of these cloud services, they can carry over my activity on other devices to my TV. Did I just rent a movie from Vudu on my laptop? A shortcut could let me start playing from the launcher. Did I finish watching episode 5 of a show on Netflix? A shortcut could let me start playing episode 6. Having friends come over tonight? A shortcut could let me start one of my favorite playlists. This would be really useful for emulators, where one must go through several screens before they can begin.

If the Leanback Launcher isn’t going to support shortcuts or other types of widgets, then I hope that it adds support for app shortcuts. There are plenty of ways that TV apps can take advantage of it. The ideas above just came off the top of my head. I’m sure the developer community can come up with some much better ideas.

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 ( 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.

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