Android TV Hands-On: This Is How Smart TVs Won’t Be So Darn Dumb

Android TV Hands-On: This Is How Smart TVs Won’t Be So Darn Dumb

For years, Google’s been trying to plow its way onto your TV with flawed hardware, and today, it shifted its approach to a new OS called Android TV. It’s the very simple way that Google is going to make your TV smart. Finally.

The built-in “smart” features that come with TVs have always been a little dumb. Recently, manufacturers from Samsung to Sony to Vizio have made great strides towards making these platforms usable, but they still lack the polish and usability of a major, well-developed operating system.

That changes with Android TV, which launches officially later this year and will hit TVs from the likes of Sony next year. It’s Android — on your TV. At Google I/O today, I saw a demo of the new platform running off a small box that looks like an Amazon Fire TV. But according to a Google rep, the company has no plans to get into the hardware business with Android TV; the company just wants to build out the platform for others.

Google’s wise to stay away from hardware given the outright failure of Google TV boxes before. According to the Google rep, the minimum hardware requirements (read: chipset requirements) will be higher than they are for tablets and phones, but they will apparently fall right in the middle of what televisions pack now.

I say “new” platform, but Google has done a great job of making Android TV feel just like, well, Android, and importantly, to make it super easy for developers to open their apps to the platform.

When you fire up Android TV, you’re shown a simple launcher with all of your apps as well as a series of recommendations across at the top rail. At this time, the recommendations are fully based on your app usage and tastes within Android TV, but later they might be based on your usage across Google services. The apps surface the recommendations to the system and then Google sorts them according to a simple prioritization algorithm. So if you watch shows on HBO Go, it will surface those. If you’ve been down the cat video rabbit hole on YouTube recently, it’s the hottest new cat videos you’ll see at the top. (You’ll need to go into Google Play and download all the apps you want to use. They won’t populate from your downloads like they might on a phone.)

Once the platform gets up and running, Google might strike deals with your cable or IPTV providers to integrate their services into the Android TV launcher. But at this time there are no active negotiations underway.

Besides being a video machine, Android TV will open the wide world of Android gaming to TVs simply and easily. This has been accomplished before with Ouya, and more recently, with Razer’s just announced Android gaming box. Playing games on the big screen rocks. It’s awesome and seamless, and a godsend for Android gamers.

All in all, Android TV looks like a super promising platform. It will be interesting to see how adoption with manufacturers and users plays out. There’s anecdotal evidence to suggest that people are becoming more accustomed to smart TVs. But without a solid hardware push from Google, who knows if Android TV will get the momentum it needs to catch on, especially as Apple is reportedly gearing up to make a huge push with improvements to Apple TV later this year.