Android TV: WWDC, Will Apple TV Gain Anything Android TV Needs?

This week saw Apple host their WWDC conference and one of the topics on the agenda was their Android TV competitor, Apple TV. More appropriately, tvOS. On the face of it, it seems tvOS played a fairly significant part of the proceedings, which in reality is in stark contrast to what many considered to be an underwhelming representation of Android TV at Google I/O 2016.

So what is tvOS getting and more importantly, is it getting anything that Android TV wants? Well, it's difficult to say as this week mainly saw just the announcements being made and generally speaking, while they were good announcements for tvOS users, there was not anything too concerning for Android TV owners. The announcement which seems to have gained the biggest traction is a new remote app that will become available for tvOS. This is an update to the existing app and one which looks to bring with it a number of improved features, like the ability to activate Siri from the app, use the app in landscape mode, game mode and the ability to type and search with a keyboard display on an iPhone. While the Android app is not by any means a good Android TV remote app, most of the announced features do seem to be ones which are already available on the Android TV app in some capacity. However, after checking out a few of the hands-on screenshots of the the new app, one feature which does look pretty good is the ‘Now Playing’ screen. While this is a feature you will find on many Android apps like Peel, it is not a feature you will find on the current version of the stock remote app for Android TV. So this would be good addition if a similar feature did make its way onto the Android app, you can see a promo of the 'Now Playing' feature below.

Moving on and there was a number of smaller announcements and although smaller, are likely to have bigger ramifications for tvOS users. One was the ‘Single Sign-on’ which is due to arrive later in the year for tvOS. In short, it seems this feature will allow tvOS users to sign-in once to a selection of apps, and have their login details migrated to other (relative) apps. It is unclear how this works at the moment, how wide the selection of grouped apps will be or how problematic it might be. Generally speaking, this is not a feature widely available on Android TV. There are some apps like Netflix which are able to be automatically signed-in (when another app-running device is nearby and also signed in), but as a universal feature, it is not available. Although, as already mentioned, it is currently still unclear how ‘universal’ the tvOS version will be, especially as this seems to be mainly a cable-oriented feature with cable credentials extending to TV-package relevant apps. While this sounds like a good new feature, this is probably one of those which represent the difference between tvOS and Android TV neatly, as it is likely that many Android TV device owners see their devices as cord-cutting devices and not really cable-enabling ones.

As already noted with the new remote app, Siri is gaining a few additional abilities and these transfer to the actual tvOS version as well. As such Siri is expected to be more in tune with apps like YouTube when searching. A feature which is easily achievable on Android TV already with Google's voice search. Although, many are still waiting for better cross-app integration with the likes of Netflix still missing universal voice search. A problem likely to be the case with the improved Siri as well.

A number of new apps were also name-dropped as on their way to tvOS with the likes of Sling TV, NBA 2K, Minecraft Story mode and Fox Sports Go. Nothing too troublesome here as most, if not all, of these are already available on the platform. Speaking of apps, ‘Automatic Downloads’ was another new feature touted. This one seems to go along the lines of the ability to download an app on any Apple device and have it also instantly downloading on tvOS. Needless to say, this is unlikely to be a feature arriving on Android TV anytime soon, due to the severe gulf of difference of Android TV compatible apps. Apple TV does have a much wider level of 'universal apps' which are able to be used on any Apple device, compared to the number of apps which comes with Android TV support. However, in truth, it is unclear how much this feature would be wanted by an Android TV user. Due to storage restrictions and the general interface, automatically downloading apps on Android TV sounds like a messy and time-consuming affair. A feature which is more likely to be beneficial to the developer and their install numbers than the actual end user.

Moving on and there was also some IoT announcements. In particular, in relation to HomeKit. As such, Apple TV will become more harmonious with non-secure connected devices in the home. In short, a hub for your connected devices. This is something that is likely being toyed with at Google for Android TV already. Especially as Android TV seems to be now part of the wider ‘Living Room’ initiative. So, it would not be surprising to see something along these lines being announced for Android TV soon enough too. After all, IoT is in at the moment.

Overall, this seems to be the bulk of what was announced for the Apple side of TV and the one overriding theme that seems to come through is that Apple is looking to make tvOS easier to use. Which makes sense. Any TV-based platform that has the potential to connect to other devices, does need to be as simple as possible to use. Android TV is no different and this is probably the biggest point for Android TV users to take from Apple’s WWDC. tvOS will become easier to use. While Google is also working along a similar premise, Android TV is a little more complicated due to the lesser variance of compatible apps, features and services. One of Android TV’s biggest strengths is that you can do so much with an Android TV device and the more you know, the more you can do. So there are restrictions on how easy they can make the overall experience on Android TV and especially, easier for everyone.

On a related, but slightly different note, Apteligent published their monthly report today which include details on the level of Apple TV and Android TV usage. Namely, it seems Apple TV users use their devices more than Android TV users do. Although, less consistently. You can read more on the findings by clicking here.

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About the Author

John Anon

John has been writing about and reviewing tech products since 2014 after making the transition from writing about and reviewing airlines. With a background in Psychology, John has a particular interest in the science and future of the industry. Besides adopting the Managing Editor role at AH John also covers much of the news surrounding audio and visual tech, including cord-cutting, the state of Pay-TV, and Android TV. Contact him at [email protected]