(Opinion) Android TV Should Have Multi-User Support

A few days ago Google Home added a key feature: support for multiple users. This makes it much more accessible for families, where your device may be used by five or six different people regularly. The lack of voice recognition, as opposed to speech recognition, has prevented the device from truly being useful. After all, I can’t create events on my calendar if the device doesn’t know whose calendar to put it on. Someone else in the house would put events on my calendar too.

You could’ve gotten around that with a family Google account, but that can be a bit hacky and difficult for family members to setup after accumulating a lot of data in their personal Google accounts. While this feature has been enabled, it has seen some critiques that some features still aren’t supported like creating reminders. It can read your reminders fine.

However, teams at Google should be thinking forward. What’s next for multi-user support? The answer should be Android TV. It too is a device that exists in your home and is accessed by a large number of people. For a while, apps like Photos have not been optimized due to the potential for privacy concerns. Other apps like YouTube work with the primary user account and can clutter their recommendations by the video watching habits of many people.

Many years ago Android gained multi-user support, allowing one device to have multiple separate profiles with different apps and data. It is disabled by default, and isn’t available on Android TVs at all. However, it might be time for the platform to look into this feature, especially with Google Assistant coming to TVs soon.

User Experience

How would the user experience work? Like Restricted Profiles, a homescreen option could be used to switch the users. These logins could be restricted based on some on-screen pin, which wouldn’t be too secure, or perhaps some other method. Users could use their voice through the remote microphone to verify the identity, even identify the person before selecting their profile. Perhaps users could use their phone to confirm who they are.

There could be general profiles that exist by default, for the whole family, or families may choose to have personal profiles. This would allow each person to have more personalized recommendations on the homescreen and in various apps. It would make account management better. When you set it up, which email is used? A family email? One person’s personal email? This creates a lot of uncertainty and hacky solutions to access content, none of which are ideal.

Recently Google Play introduced Family Sharing, allowing content purchased to be shared among six different people. This doesn’t really affect smart TVs, since you’re locked in to a single account. While some Google Apps have added an account switcher on Nougat, it doesn’t give users the same level of personalization across all apps.

Detriments

This idea would not be without some downsides. Most media streaming apps will require a simple username and password. For most families, there is only one such account for HBO, Netflix, and others. How would this work in a multi-user world? Every user would need to sign in to the app again, which would be annoying and may go against limitations for the number of registered devices. Alternatively, they could just be placed in a single family account. Users would need to think about which app they want and which account owns it before launching.

This isn’t a good experience, because most content providers do not support multiple users. If everyone shares a single HBO account, they share the same watchlist and views. Recommendations wouldn’t actually improve since the apps wouldn’t know how to handle this new data.

Gaming

Where this feature would really make sense is around gaming. With Google Play Games, we can have our own individual leaderboards and achievements synced across all of our devices. This doesn’t work well in a multi-user environment. By making user selection easier, instead of logging out and in constantly, each user is able to maintain their own records without intruding on the family account. If I play Crossy Road on my TV, I expect the same results to transfer to my phone to play away from home. I don’t want my sister to be taking my achievements.

Compromising

Maybe we should compromise. As discussed above, many media apps like HBO do not support multiple user accounts, but many games would benefit from the feature. As media and gaming are the two major components of TVs, it might make sense to come up with a dual approach, that comprises of a single user profile but smaller, less secure profile swaps.

This crude example shows how user profiles appear on the homescreen

Imagine an icon next to the Restricted Profile option that allows the user to change the default email or Google profile used for apps. This wouldn’t be done in each app, but rather select the default which is used by different games when they initialize Google Play Services.

This would not really impact recommendations, although it may not make a major difference in the variety of apps. While true multiple profiles would be really neat, there are still a lot of questions as to how this would manifest itself in the most common Android TV apps. Still, this is still an area that should be explored as Android TV continues to develop and mature.

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 (http://github.com/fleker) 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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  • Andrew Loiacono

    Also imagine having the same game installed twice on two different accounts. Or other situations with lots of games installed on lots of accounts. Most Android TV devices don’t have that much storage.

    • Nick Felker

      Storage could be an issue, although one that is fairly easily mitigated. When you install an app for multiple users, does it actually store the binary twice? I’m pretty sure it stores one binary but two spaces for user data.

      • Andrew Loiacono

        Yea you are probably right

  • Abhilash Bingi

    While I realize multi-user support in ATV is not as robust/full-fledged like on phones/tablets, Nougat did add support for adding multiple accounts. It’s up to the app devs to take advantage of this. I wonder why you left this out of the article/discussion

    https://androidtv.news/2016/03/android-n-bringing-multi-user-support-details-come/
    http://www.androidpolice.com/2016/03/25/android-n-feature-spotlight-android-tv-has-a-new-look-for-the-settings-app-and-now-supports-multiple-accounts/

    • Nick Felker

      I am aware of the feature, though I don’t think it solves the problem. It is app-specific, making it a pain for me to use it as I need to swap every default. And for things like games, it doesn’t seem easy to switch either.

  • davehuze

    I know you were talking about profiles but there has been support for multiple Google accounts since Nougat, unfortunately the YouTube app is the only app I’ve found that utilizes it. It seems like nobody even knows this feature exists. I have both my primary account and my daughters account setup on my Shield and Nexus Player. While it doesn’t prevent me from getting her Recommendations, it does prevent her YouTube subscriptions from ending up on my account. If they would update the Google Music app with the same ability I could live without profiles.

    • Nick Felker

      Yes multiple accounts sort of exist, although it’s not too easy to select a default, which makes it inconvenient for games.

  • I LONG for this feature.