Questions we have about the New Tv Launcher

Google showed off its major redesign for Android TV last night. While we have a good idea of how new apps can integrate these features, there are still many questions we still have about this new experience. With the Android O beta, which we took a look at yesterday, we know a few answers, and we’ll question what features are currently in beta.

Recommendations


Currently, Android TV has a single row for every app to send recommendations. These are notifications with custom metadata. In this new design, these do not seem to be present. Content now must be setup as a series of channels and programs.

So, what happened to recommendations? Actually, many of the cards shown in the beta version are in fact the recommendations. These appear as the default channel for many apps, perhaps because they target API 25 and lower. Launch on Boot has a “channel” and “program” in this new UI. In the future these may be deprecated in this new user interface, except we’re not entirely sure. In the top-right corner there is some number. In fact, this is a notification center. Real notifications seem to be coming to TV. For what purpose, we’re not sure.

The very bottom row on Android TV now seems compressed in the top-right corner of the screen. However, it seems like the previous settings for Wi-Fi and Restricted Profile aren’t present. Are these now buried in the settings, or is Restricted Profile removed? We can’t seem to find it.

What about Games?

NVIDIA is one of the premiere Android TV device partners, and they market the device with a heavy gaming focus. Yet, as you can see, games are very much hidden away and deprioritized compared to media apps. This was one of the questions asked during the event’s Q&A. Games are now shown as another type of app. They’ll appear in the app drawer, and perhaps you’ll make them favorite apps. However, this may have a large impact on NVIDIA’s catered gaming experience.

This might be manifested in a new row NVIDIA creates that can show all your games, or NVIDIA’s own games. This leads us into another question.

Can OEMs create custom rows?

On Sony TVs, there’s a Sony-specific row. On the Mi Box, Xiaomi has a custom row for their apps. OEMs have been able to change some of the experience to include their own software. Will they be able to do the same with this new launcher? Will Sony’s apps appear as a row in-between Favorite Apps and Watch Next? If not, that may negatively impact OEM adoption. If so, it will be a larger consolidation of the experience to make it more consistent and user-focused. One more question about the rows…

Can we prevent apps from using Watch Next?

The Watch Next is supposed to be a row shared by all your apps, making it ripe for abuse and spam. Annoying apps may continue to populate it, or may be poorly programmed to not delete content you finished. Will users be able to disable certain apps from putting content in this row? Hopefully there can be some compromise that keeps the user experience.

There is a setting to completely disable Watch Next. However, this all-or-nothing approach isn’t ideal when we just want to disable a single app.

What’s the future of Live Channels?

Live Channels was once the way that all apps could integrate their content and improve discovery for users. However, this launcher makes it much more in the user’s face. What does it mean for Live Channels?

As shown in the Android TV session, the app does appear in the app drawer, so it still does exist. However, it doesn’t appear to have any of these new launcher rows aside from showing recommendations. That could mean the feature isn’t available in the app yet, or there are other plans for the future of Live Channels. It wouldn’t be hard to imagine Live Channels will have one or more rows for with every TV channel, or one for each source.

Will the homescreen overlay content?

Start playing a YouTube video and then press home. Your homescreen will overlay on top of the video as it continues playing. Users can then browse other apps. Will the same happen on this new homescreen? That feature doesn’t seem to be present based on the current demo, though that may change in the future. This can make the switch to the launcher more impactful, but would give the launcher more control over the background. In addition to switching content…

Has ‘Recents’ gone away?

In Android Nougat, one of the big features on the Nexus Player was to hold down the Home button and see all of the apps that you have opened recently, much like the recents screen on your phone. In this beta, holding down the home button opens the App Drawer from anywhere on the device. The previous screen doesn’t appear. This may end up being tweaked. Perhaps the left side will show all your recent apps while the right side will show all your apps.

This cannot be the final functionality since it affects PiP. In Nougat, the PiP videos are controlled by holding down home. A few settings are shown on the top of the screen. In Android O, there doesn’t seem to be a way to control these smaller windows at all, making it annoying to start one.

There’s one final question that is the most important.

Will developers adopt this?

These new features are really nice, but only if apps start supporting these features. Will developers do it or will your homescreens be empty, only filled with Netflix and YouTube? This question is something we will have to see over the next months and years.

What do you think? What questions do you have? Let us know in the comments below.

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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  • Tinwarble

    Frankly, from what I’ve seen so far the route that Google is taking with the the new UI/UX is concerning. It seems as though they are taking a “we know best” or “content providers know best” approach rather than letting the user decide what they want to see on the “Home screen”.

    My personal preference would have been to leave Leanback much as it already is, remove the recommendations row, then have more rows in each section row (limit each row in the section to say 10 apps) and add the ability to add user defined section rows, as well as the ability to move apps to different section rows.

    And if they wanted to add “Channels” add it as a separate page. They could just move the Settings row to were the recommendations are now and add a channels icon there so that you could get to the channels page.

  • Matt

    Live channels should have been key. But Vue / Sling are little assholes and won’t integrate. They want “their magical app” to be the place to go. I hope Youtube TV puts them in there.. that way with HDHomerun we got a complete package.

    • TedPhillips

      live channel integration, and recommendations have definitely seen upticks in use, but with netflix holding out on recommendations & universal search integration, it really tilts the landscape around how much effort other players will put in.

      i think, if live channels got expanded to also have on-demand style features (ala the recent pluto update), or say, that was another ‘new’ aggregation front end for on-demand content (without being the actual launcher) you could have a really clean, unified experience.

      as for things that belong on a launcher, i’d agree that a watch queue, recommendations, and some leanback friendly app drawer are the main roles. (in addition to a time/weather widget).

      the O’s launcher app-based subchannels, with a handful of recommendations on each becomes a discovery problem as soon as you have to start scrolling down (and across) to view it. (ie: it falls over as soon as you have a lot of apps) there should be a single recommendation feed, and sub channels for async content should show up separately as a different thing.

      the flip-flopping on notifications is very telling that there is just overall a lot of churn on google’s side about what the ux should be on the tv.

  • Mike

    4,000+ mouse clicks and I don’t know anymore than when I started watching. Are we reverting to morse code?

  • TedPhillips

    live channels seems to be for ‘live’ content aggregation, and the new launcher is for async/app content aggregation.

    the conceptual overlap is that ‘live’ source may also show on the launcher, but i think the differentiator is the unified EPG you get within live channels w/DVR-timeshift facilities.

    still a good question, though, over time the live channels could dissolve into the launcher, especially if it boils down to just the epg/record capability that could say, slide out/overlay onto the launcher.

    remind me, is the new launcher not coming back to other ATV’s?