Is Google TV dead?
The short answer is no, far from it. The platform is maturing more slowly that just about everyone would like, but TV is the next digital frontier for app developers. At least, that’s what we think.
In early January of 2012, Google made several exciting announcements. First, activations of Google TV devices have doubled since the update started rolling out. Second, several hardware manufacturing partners were prepped to announce or demo their new Google TV devices. The list includes LG, Samsung, Sony, and Vizio — together, this group makes up a substantial percentage of all televisions sold today.
Some may have scoffed at Google Executive Chairman and former CEO Eric Schmidt when he stated that by the summer of 2012 the majority of televisions would have Google TV in them. But coming out of CES 2012, Google TV garnered much news coverage and reviews of the platform update — which provided Android Market access — were more favorable than in the past. But the Google TV platform still has a need for apps and content. With few applications available now (just 150 in early January), there is plenty of room for awesome Android apps.
Did someone say apps? That’s where you, the Android developer, come in. “But,” you say, “I have an app on Android Market. Why doesn’t it show up for Google TVs?” Read on.
Tips for Getting Your Android Market Apps on Google TV
Unlike most Android devices, Google TV devices are far more restricted in the hardware they support. You must modify your manifest — and sometimes your application — to work properly with Google TV. This isn’t to say it won’t run as written, but using an app with a keyboard on a television is nothing like using an app on a small screen with your fingers. With that in mind, here are several tips to help you move your applications over to Google TV.
Tip 1: Respect UI Differences Between Android Devices and Google TV
Tip 2: Sensor-driven Apps Will Struggle on Google TV
Unlike traditional Android devices, Google TV devices tend to have fewer, if any, sensors (at this time). The Google TV screen does not rotate, but stays in landscape mode all the time. Accelerometer-driven applications like flight simulators and games that use thumb controls on the touch screen are going to need to be rethought. One way to handle these issues is to write companion remote control applications for peripheral Android devices that do have these sensors.
Tip 3: Pay Attention to Android Manifest File Settings
In order for your application to show up in the Android Market for download on a Google TV, the application must explicitly list certain features and hardware configurations as not required. If you rely on the touch screen or other hardware that isn’t available, you may need to code workarounds. Or maybe your application doesn’t make sense on Google TV. Find out more about how to configure your application manifest file to target Google TV at the Google developer documentation.
Tip 4: There Is No NDK
Google TV does not support use of the Android NDK at this time, despite the fact that the Android NDK supports x86 as a target now. If your app uses native code through the NDK, your application will not function on Google TVs. If you’re designing a new application, consider whether or not RenderScript, which is feasible on Google TVs, is a reasonable option for performance-critical sections of your code.
Tip 5: TV Is Traditionally A “Lean Back” Experience
Google TV brings Android to a new audience — couch potatoes. Television viewers normally sit back and consume content more than they actively participate, and they do it from the couch, which may be a substantial distance from the screen. Many of these TV users struggle to use their remote controls as it is, so they may be less technically savvy than your existing smartphone or smart device users. This doesn’t mean that you can’t get users up and doing awesome stuff — that is kind of the point of Google TV, to make TV yet another smart device — but it’s going to take a thoughtful approach.
Bonus Tip 6: Google TV Owners Likely Have Smartphones
We can’t prove it, be we would be surprised if the typical (current) Google TV owner — or owners — didn’t have a smartphone lying around. This can be tricky; a smartphone is a highly personalized device. It usually belongs to one person, whereas a television is a shared resource. So maybe Mom or Dad has the smartphone, but the kids are the primary consumers of TV content. We see this as an opportunity to create amazing new types of apps that leverage both devices together. If you make a remote controller app, keep in mind that most people will have to look down at their devices to press the appropriate button or control, losing sight of the TV screen.
This is a great time to update your Android applications to support the exciting new Google TV platform. Not only is the Android Market now available for Google TV users but Google and manufacturers also have renewed their push to create more Google TV-enabled devices. You’ve learned several tips on preparing your application for Google TV. Strike while the iron is hot and the applications available are limited!