The Verge reports that Google is getting ready to launch Android TV, a set top box based on Android that comes complete with apps and games. The new device is said to have an entertainment-focused interface, and it will be geared toward getting content in front of the user with three clicks or less. Such a product could prove to be a very tough competitor for Amazon’s Fire TV and the Apple TV. It looks like Google is declaring war on Apple and Amazon for control of the living room.
While Android still lives under the hood, the interface will consist of a set of scrolling “cards” that represent movies, shows, apps, and games sitting on a shelf. You use a remote control with a four-way directional pad to scroll left and right through different suggestions, or up and down through different categories of content, each with their own shelves. Much like on other set top boxes, each item will be like a miniature movie poster or book cover, and you’ll pick the one you want. The controller will also have Enter, Home, and Back buttons to help get around, and there will be “optional” game controllers.
Android TV will also support voice input and notifications — though Google is encouraging developers to only use notifications in very limited cases. In total, Android TV is remarkably similar to Amazon’s just-released, Android-based Fire TV.
Image credit: The Verge
Android TV and Google’s Chromecast
Google’s entrance into the television set top box market should not come as a surprise to anyone, especially after Amazon’s announcement of the Fire TV. Set top boxes seem to be a new frontier for companies like Amazon and Google, despite having been around for quite a while in the form of the Apple TV and similar products. It looks like Google has carefully studied existing products as it designed Android TV, and it has decided to put the emphasis on getting content in front of the viewer as easily as possible.
What is somewhat puzzling though is that Google already had a television product called Chromecast, which has proven to be a popular item on Amazon since it sells for about $35. It remains to be seen exactly what Android TV means for the Chromecast. Will Google continue with the Chromecast? Or will it slowly fade and simply be replaced by Android TV? There’s no real way to know at this point, we’ll have to wait and see what Google does. Of course it’s quite possible that Google will keep both products, with the Chromecast appealing to the lower end of the market, and the Android TV to the higher end since it will probably sell for the same $99 as the Fire TV or Apple TV.
Android TV versus the Apple TV
One company who had better be paying attention to this is Apple. The Apple TV has been around forever but it still lacks the ability for users to run applications and games. Until now Apple has had the luxury of playing in a market for set top boxes with few real competitors. Those days are over, Google and Amazon are both serious competitors so Apple had better move fast to improve Apple TV or watch it languish behind Fire TV and Android TV.
Of course there have been a lot of rumors that say a new Apple TV is coming, and that it might include games and apps. But to date we’ve heard nothing whatsoever from Apple about it. So there’s no way to know if any of the rumors or true, or if it’s just more pontificating from the technology press to drum up page views and ad impressions by playing to the Apple crowd.
Android TV walks in the footsteps of Amazon’s Fire TV
Isn’t it ironic though that Google – the father of Android – is only now getting ready to release the Android TV? Amazon, a company that has benefited greatly from Android, has actually beaten Google to market with an Android-based set top box. Google seems to have gone from being the pioneer of Android to a follower of Amazon, particularly after its failed Google TV product.
Google’s entrance into the set top box market is awful news for Roku and other smaller companies. When you have Google, Amazon and Apple all in the same market space, it just doesn’t leave a lot of room for alternative devices. I could be wrong about this though, perhaps Roku will survive but the odds seem to be against it.
Android TV and Android developers
Android TV could do very well if Google can successfully leverage the existing base of Android developers. Those developers could provide an enormous range of apps and games for Android TV that would leave rivals like the Fire TV in the dust in terms of app selection. The only company that could rival Google in this regard is Apple, and as I noted earlier nobody knows what the heck Apple is doing in terms of putting apps on the Apple TV.
One thing is for sure, the set top box market is in for some big changes. Users are going to have look carefully at each of these devices before making a final decision to purchase one or the other. It may end up simply being a choice of which ecosystem they want to become a part of: Apple’s, Amazon’s, Google’s or somebody else’s?
What’s your take on this? Tell me in the comments below.