Google Inc. (NASDAQ:GOOGL) announced on Wednesday that it will partner with several TV manufacturers to include its Android operating system on television sets next year. It will also make and sell set-top boxes for sale this fall that will include Android.
Android TV works like the company’s Chromecast device, which allows users to stream media from mobile devices and computers wirelessly to TVs using WiFi technology. Chromecast also currently works with certain apps and websites like YouTube and Netflix, Inc. (NASDAQ:NFLX), and users can use it to stream music and personal videos and photos as well. Unlike the Chromecast, however, Android TV will be built into all Sony Corp. (NYSE:SNE) high definition and 4K TVs in 2015, and it will be included in new TVs from Sharp and TPVision, too.
Android TV will be included in set-top boxes from Razr, Asus and other manufacturers, which will compete with Amazon.com, Inc.’s (NASDAQ:AMZN) Fire TV and Apple Inc.’s (NASDASQ:AAPL) expected Apple TV refresh.
Google’s director of engineering, Dave Burke, introduced Android TV at I/O, the company’s annual developers conference in San Francisco. Burke said Google looked at “the TV space as similar to mobile in 2006.”
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While “TVs are fast becoming ... computing devices in their own right,” smart TVs continue to be “limited” to software developers because each manufacturer uses their own operating system. Android TV, he said, will allow voice input, bringing the Android user experience and content to “the largest screen in your house.”
“Android TV is not a new platform,” Burke said. It is made up of “one Android SDK for all form factors,” and will be part of Google’s recently announced Android L update for smartphones, which Google said would come later this year.
Burke demonstrated Android TV by searching for movies using his voice. The platform also allows smartwatches running Google’s Android Wear – like the LG G Watch and Samsung Gear Live – to act as a backup remote control capable of navigating Android TV’s new Home screen, and adjusting the playback volume.
Burke also demonstrated multiplayer mobile games like NBA Jam on a television using Android TV. He said it could utilize a television’s hardware remote control, game controllers, or a phone or tablet as a “virtual controller” to play games, or to allow a user to conduct a voice search, as Google does on smartphones and computers.
Google built “core search functionality directly into” Android TV, Burke said, and any app developer can update its software to interact with it.
Android TV’s search also shows related terms. For example, if a user searches for a television show, it allows them to choose between watching the show on a streaming service, looking at YouTube clips related to the show, or selecting actors and actresses featured in the program.
Devices using Android TV will then have full “Googlecast support,” Burke said, allowing them to operate “just like a Chromecast.” The $35 Chromecast dongle is the best-selling electronics item in over 20 countries, Google said, and it would receive its fair share of updates.
The Chromecast will allow a TV to be more functional when its not in use, Google said, displaying a feed of images like a computer’s screensaver. Called Backdrop, Google’s “Ambient” Chromecast feature will gradually involve more information over time, including notifications.
Chromecast will soon be able to mirror Android devices’ screens, including a smartphone’s camera. Google says the new features work on Android smartphones like its own Nexus, and those from Samsung, HTC and LG, with “more to come” throughout 2014.