Google’s first attempt at creating software for TV boxes never gained much traction. Google TV had some good ideas, but it had a confusing user interface that made finding apps and content tougher than it had to be, and most Google TV devices were kind of sluggish.
Now Google is reportedly making another play for the living room, and this time The Verge reports it’s with a new platform called Android TV.
The new platform is designed to be simpler and easier to use. Rather than featuring a huge marketplace of third party apps that let you use your TV like you use your smartphone, there will be an emphasis on apps designed specifically for the TV.
According to documents obtained by The Verge, Android TV will have a user interface based on scrolling cards for apps, movies, TV shows, games, or other content. Instead of navigating with a complicated remote control with a QWERTY keyboard, you’ll be able to navigate with a 4-way direction pad. It also supports voice controls.
Google is hoping to encourage app developers to create third-party music, video, and other apps that have a consistent look and feel so that if you know how to navigate one, you’ll be able to navigate all of them. Leaked photos show support for apps including YouTube, Netflix, Hulu, Songza, Pandora, and VEVO.
Theoretically is could also be possible to search for videos without first firing up an app. Want to watch a movie? Find a title from Android TV search menu and then Google TV will take you to the appropriate app to rent that video or watch it if you’re already paying for a subscription. This sort of search only works if third-party app developers support it though… and there’s no reason to expect everyone to get on board. Just look at Amazon’s Fire TV search function, which is currently pretty limited because it lacks support for most third-party apps.
Overall Android TV will be a lot more like a Roku, Apple TV, or Amazon Fire TV and less like a TV version of the software you run on a smartphone or tablet (although it’ll still be based on the same Android code).
Android TV isn’t Google’s only TV product. The $35 Chromecast has been selling pretty well in the US since mid-2013, and Google recently launched Chromecast in a number of additional markets. But Chromecast is a platform that allows you to use Android or iOS apps such as Netflix or Hulu Plus as sort of remote controls for your TV, whereas Android TV is a standalone product that you can use whether you own a smartphone or not.
It’s also likely to be a platform that’s open to hardware partners that want to build their own devices using Google’s software… assuming anyone still wants to do that after the lackluster reception Google TV boxes received.