Google Assistant is just the magic sauce Android TV needs
“We’ve been on the market now for two years with Android TV and so we tried to take a step back and see what works and what doesn’t work,” says Sascha Prueter, director of Android TV. “Where is the user experience not as good as we wanted it to be?”
“One of things we realized was we needed to make it easier for users to get to their content. There’s more and more content available from more and more sources, and so it gets more and more complex for users to actually find all the right content. What we saw was users don’t want just a big list of apps and then jump into every app to find out if it has the content they want.”
Refreshed UI puts content first
The new Android TV interface is divided into several rows. At the top is a row for apps, but you won’t find every single app you’ve installed there — just your favorites that you pin there.
Below that is a “Watch Next” row designed for binge-watchers, Prueter says.
“An app can say OK, I know this user has watched the first two episodes and it’s very likely the next thing they want to watch is the third episode, so they can basically put a ‘Watch Next’ here and the user can continue watching where they left off.”
The rest of the rows below “Watch Next” are video apps that can be pinned and display different kinds of content. For example, the Netflix channel displays recommended shows based on what it already knows about your viewing habits, and the YouTube app displays trending videos based on your profile.
Prueter was especially excited to tell me that the thumbnails for show content aren’t static, but consist of short teaser trailers. The previews aren’t limited to on-demand video content, but work with live content as well. “We saw in our testing and research… we saw lots and lots more engagement with these kinds of video previews.”
Other neat visual touches—like how the interface background changes based on the selected content—show Google’s paid attention to the details.
I also got to take a look at how 360-degree videos work on Android TV. Spoiler alert: Kinda meh. To pan around, you use the directional pad on your remote. It’s no better than using a mouse to click around 360-degree videos on your computer. When I asked Prueter if people actually wanted those videos on their TV, he said there is more demand for live 360-degree content, like concerts.
Talking to your TV
The interface revamp looks good. The new Android TV is simpler and easier to navigate, but the real star of the makeover is Google Assistant.
Assistant support was announced at CES and some TV makers like Sony said their TVs would be controllable by Assistant later this year, but it’s been pretty quiet since.
It’s still scheduled for launch on Android TV later this year, and it works pretty much as you’d expect it would. In fact, it’s very much like the Alexa-powered Westinghouse/Element TV I took a look at recently.
With an “OK Google” command, you can play shows, check the weather, search Google, control your smart home and more. And because Assistant is contextually aware, it can respond to follow-up queries without repeated “OK Google” prompts.
The limitation right now is you have to speak into a voice remote to activate Assistant, but in the future you’ll simply talk directly to your TV. Though he wouldn’t share specific details or partners, Prueter says Google’s already working with companies to build far-field voice recognition technology right into TVs.
The future of TV watching is coming and it’s very clear it’ll be voice-controlled.