Google had plenty of new things to share at Google I/O last week, and that included Android TV. The service wasn't featured in the keynote address, but that's OK. Android TV is not dead, and in fact it's getting some interesting features, including easier subscriptions to services, Google Assistant in Live TV services, and a fresh new Play Store — all coming soon (read: eventually). Google also has said hardware announcements are coming, but no other details have been shared yet.
The Android TV team spoke candidly during their Google I/O session about how far they have come, and how hard they have worked to get to this point. Even without time in recent Keynotes, the platform has grown in features, operator tier partnerships, and smart TV brands. There are still changes I would like to see Google bring to their streaming solution, so this is my Android TV wish list.
Make things easier and more friendly
Google has already made it clear that it plans on fixing Android TV app discovery. They previewed this with a new version of the TV Play Store during a Google I/O session. That will be a big improvement, and a step forward for the platform. It doesn't have to be the only way they try to make this better.
If you have used a Roku or Fire TV, you probably already know how easy it is to browse channels or apps for your TV on almost any device. In theory, this should be easy for Android TV, too, since the Play Store website can push apps to any device. However, there is no easy way to see or search for apps that are just for your Android TV. The closest you get is a promotional page. It isn't a complete collection and it lacks categories or the ability to sort or filter the TV apps.
The platform would benefit from a TV-compatible app portal for the Google Play Store on the web and mobile. It would function as a dynamic portal that lets users navigate only TV-compatible apps and push them to a device with one click. Images could default to the TV view first, instead of needing to scroll through the mobile or tablet views first. Users would not need to check each individual streaming app to see if each is compatible, making apps easier for users to find.
There is another natural fit for a TV-compatible app version of the Play Store.
An expanded companion app
The official Android TV app is a remote control app for your phone or tablet. It is worth installing if only for the ability to use your phone remote to type in passwords or searches faster than with an on-screen keyboard. Otherwise, the app has more problems than benefits. It's slow to connect, and needs to resync far too often. The last update for this app came over two years ago.
A proper companion app has the potential to help users more than just a simple remote. The remote control experience could be updated to match the newer Google design and features like the All Apps button. Mobile access to a TV-compatible version of the Play Store would be convenient, and regularly check for new TV apps that match apps on the phone. It could even tie into the Google Assistant, and help users find new features and ways to use their Android TV to the fullest.
An entry-level hero device
Many of us own an NVIDIA Shield TV, and it is a fantastic showcase for Android TV. It is still the only Android TV device you should buy right now, even though it's years old. Google has a capable and dedicated partner in NVIDIA. For this wish list item, it may help to explain why I want a new kind of hero device for Android TV by comparing them to Superheroes.
I think of NVIDIA Shield TV like the Hulk. It is a powerful green monster that can move faster than almost anything you compare it to. When you want to game, or run a local media server like Plex on device, it is worth it to have the green goliath handy. But one hero doesn't make a team. Superhero teams excel by having a variety of abilities. Android TV needs more heroes, and they should start with a friendly neighborhood Spiderman.
In this case, I think of Spiderman as an efficient and low-priced Android TV stick. Spiderman is small, flexible, powerful and available. People who run and hide if they see the Hulk might walk right up to Spiderman to ask for help. Android TV needs a portable and affordable over the top option to go head to head with a Roku Streaming Stick+ and Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K at about $50.
An Android TV stick doesn't need to be as fast as NVIDIA's Hulk as long as it could run streaming video apps well and handle the best 4K HDR standards. Developers have access to a similar device in the ADT-2, but it is for developers and is not for sale to the public. Until any announcements are made, my wishes for a Google Nest TV Stick or Shield TV Stick will exist only in my dreams.
The only choice
The Android TV box you should buy
NVIDIA Shield TV is the only Android TV box we recommend — and that's fine, since it's also still an excellent device, even years after its release, for streaming as well as gaming.
One of the biggest problems I have with smart TV platforms, including Android TV, comes from the family experience with these devices. We are all so used to having our own profiles, and parental controls, that the shared TV experience feels cluttered and a little too open. I have had to talk to my 7 year old twice after finding out he used the full YouTube App instead of YouTube Kids. For the most part, proper parenting has been our answer to this problem, but it would be nice to have some help from the technology.
Something as simple as the ability to set a PIN to access specific apps would be a big benefit. We have tried the restricted profile, and could use it again if we find the kids aren't following directions, but it's not a full solution. It is understandable this will take time and thought to get right, but if Android TV can do just that, it would be a big advantage.
An Official Google Universal Remote
This is by far my craziest idea, but with the announcement of the Stadia controller it doesn't feel as far fetched as before. Remote controls are key to the living room experience. Universal remotes can be fantastic, but they usually come with sacrifices like losing voice controls or complex setups.
Google could create an Universal Remote designed to work with any Android TV device. They would be able to design it to work well with the Google Assistant, and offer new standard buttons like All Apps to older devices. They could even include an IR blaster for TV power, volume and Input controls, with setup integrated into the OS or Assistant as well. With dedicated buttons for YouTube or YouTube TV, it could drive users towards other Google products and services.
I admit this is unlikely, but a Google Universal Remote could be just the thing to bring consistency and harmony to Google's media strategies in the home.
Bonus Wish: Filling a few remaining app gaps
The Android TV team spoke proudly at Google I/O and in interviews about growth in the number of apps on the platform. It has been a change users can see, with several big name apps arriving for the first time recently, and other major apps seeing updates after months or years without any changes. Users, hardware partners and Google all hope this trend continues.
As a bonus item on this wish list, here are some key apps that aren't on Android TV. Hopefully Google and the app developers together can find a way to bring these to users.
- The modern Hulu app with Live TV, Profiles and My List
- DirecTV Now
- EPIX Now
- Discovery Network family apps (Discovery Go, TLC, Science Channel, etc.)
- Nick Jr
- NBC Universal family of apps (USA, E!, Bravo, SyFy)
- CBS Sports HQ with Live streaming
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