It has been a funny old year in the Android TV world. One which makes it a little difficult to really draw firm conclusions on going forward. For instance, the Android TV market is certainly one that has expanded over the past twelve months. However, it is also one that in some ways, has contracted as well. What is certainly clear, is that in the last twelve months the software side of things has changed considerably and now the number of apps and services that are available for Android TV, dwarfs the level that was on offer this time last year. So from the user experience perspective, 2016 has been a very good year for Android TV and it seems likely that 2017, will be even better. When looking back over 2016, where the real debate is going to lie - is how the hardware side of the market has conducted itself.
Xiaomi Mi Box
While the Android TV interface has exploded with new options, the hardware side has been quite a different story altogether. There has been some new hardware coming through this year, but probably not as much as the average Android TV consumer would have liked or expected. For instance, on the TV box side, there has only really been one major device released this year (in the US at least) and this was the Xiaomi Mi Box. The good news is that the Mi Box did come to market as a device which is priced considerably more competitive than the other options. Which is very good news for consumers who are not looking to spend so much on Android TV, but are looking to try the platform out. In the very shortest of terms, the arrival of the Mix Box has created a nicely-priced gateway device to Android TV and this is certainly good for the market overall. But that is largely it when it comes to TV boxes and even the Mi Box took its time in arriving as it did not become available to buy in the US until the start of October. Up until then, there was no new arrivals in the box hardware department.
Sony Android TV
However, this year has seen quite a few TVs that are powered by Android TV coming through. Almost right at the start of 2016 (during CES in fact), Sony announced their latest 4K Android TV sets. Ones that have since become available to buy. As part of the original announcement, Sony confirmed the arrival of quite a few new models, which also included quite a few different sizes of each model. Resulting in an instant increase to the number of Android TV sets available to buy in 2016, ones which span different consumer needs and of course, different price points.
RCA Android TV
By April, the number of announced TV sets powered by Android TV grew even more when RCA announced that they were bringing their range of Android TV sets to market. Which was of particular importance, as the RCA range is significantly more affordable than the options from the likes of Sony and SHARP. So the arrival of the RCA devices, meant that like the Mi Box, there was now a decent entry-level for TVs that are powered by Android TV. In fact, the most affordable of the RCA options was priced as low as $499.99. Which for a TV, which also includes access to the Android TV platform, is a pretty compelling price.
LeEco Android TV
Then of course, by the closing months of the year, along came LeEco who held their first proper US launch event. One which made it clear that LeEco was now here in the US and was bringing with them, their own range of Android TV devices. Which again represented a fairly substantial statement on Android TV in general. While LeEco was effectively only announcing four different TV models, they were announcing one of the smallest and one of the largest Android TV-powered sets. So like how RCA added to the entry-level sector of the market, LeEco was adding to both extreme ends of the market. Those looking for an affordable option could go with the LeEco Super4 X43 Pro which is priced at $649 (even cheaper when you consider the additional savings available through LeEco's instant rebates). While those looking for the absolute best in class could go for the LeEco uMax 85. Although this one comes with a fairly substantial $4,999 price tag, it also does comes packing the specs. Including an 84.5-inch screen, a 4K Ultra-HD (3840 x 2160) Resolution, 4GB RAM, 64GB Flash Storage, an Mstar 6A938 processor, Harmon Kardon Audio, and much more. So while it is expensive, you are getting what you pay for. More importantly, it caters to the premium end of the Android TV price spectrum.
Gone too soon
Of course, 2016 was not without its casualties either. As very early into the year it became abundantly clear that the Android TV box that started the consumer movement off, the Nexus Player, was disappearing from the stage. An aspect which became fact when Google confirmed the discontinuing of the Nexus Player in May of 2016. Since then, and while still unconfirmed by the actual manufacturers, it does seem as those the other big-hitting boxes of 2015 have also been effectively discontinued now. Both the Razer Forge TV and the NVIDIA SHIELD are generally (and consistently) unavailable to buy. Which is always the best indication of whether a device has been (or is about to be) discontinued. So while there is a lack of an official confirmation on the discontinuation of these two boxes, to all purposes, and like the Nexus Player, they are off the market. Which is what makes the lack of any new arriving Android TV boxes even more alarming. Thanks to the absence of the Nexus Player, the Razer Forge TV and the NVIDIA SHIELD, as it currently stands, the Mi Box is the only dedicated Android TV box that you can buy in the US today.
So looking back over the last twelve months, it is clear that the TV set market has not only seen a number of new arrivals, but has seen those arrivals periodically being announced throughout the year. Which is important to an emerging market like Android TV, as it keeps the momentum going. Sony announced in January, RCA in April and LeEco in late October. A nice and consistent level of announcements coming through. Which is in stark contrast to the TV box market and does highlight one of the clear inferences that can be made about Android TV in 2016 - it was the year of the Android TV sets. If anything, it would not be too much of an assumption to suggest that the ‘built-in’ aspect of Android TV is likely where Google sees the platform evolving the most - as TVs which come powered by Android TV can (and probably will) become the main vehicle of adoption for Android TV and certainly for consumers who at the point of purchase, are unaware of Android TV. So while it is hoped that Android TV boxes will continue to be released by third-party manufacturers, it does seem to be the case that there is much less emphasis being placed on TV boxes at the moment. Of course, being able to cement Android TV as a built-in feature on many of the major TV brands is definitely something that is good for the platform as a whole, as it will not only lead to greater levels of Android TV adoption but it will go a long way to cementing Android TV as the go-to TV operating system. It just does also mean that some consumers may have to compromise somewhat on the specs or performance - as generally speaking (and certainly at the more affordable end of the spectrum), you are unlikely to find many TVs that are powered by Android TV coming with the performance savvy of a dedicated TV box.
Overall, and to repeat, it has been a fairly mixed year for Android TV. 2016 has certainly seen the market expand and especially when it comes to the software side of things. Which is in addition to a significant increase in the number of available TV sets that are powered by Android TV. However, the Android TV box market has taken a bit of a slam in 2016 and is certainly one which currently represents a contracted market, with a decrease in the number of available options compared to the year before. On a positive note though, that might change very soon if the rumors surrounding a new NVIDIA SHIELD being announced at CES are true. Although, that is for the 2017 year in review and not for the year that is now coming to a close.