Along with the rest of the most recent Nexus devices, and the two Pixel phones, the Nexus Player is now eligible to download the second developer preview of Android O. While this is fairly big news for all of the eligible Nexus and Pixel devices, it does seem more newsworthy for the Nexus Player (and Android TV) in general, as the Android TV version of Android O now comes with a refreshed user interface. In many respects, this is quite the change from the current interface on offer with Android TV, and one which Google notes is designed to offer a “channel-based, content-first” sort of Android TV experience. Following the initial announcement, Google has been showcasing the new interface at Google I/O 2017.
It does certainly seem as though Google is approaching Android TV differently with this interface and in some respects, Google is looking to simplify the content that initially appears on the display. On the current (non-Android O) version of Android TV, viewers are presented with a 'recommendations' rows, and this is where one of the most obvious and notable changes takes place. As now the viewer has the ability to add individual apps to the leanback launcher. So for example, instead of having the odd Netflix or Hulu title show up in the catch-all recommendations row, the viewer can activate an entire dedicated Netflix or Hulu row on the leanback launcher. As you might expect, these rows (or ‘channels’ as Android O now seems to be calling them) are fully customizable, so you can add any compatible app that you want. While Google could not confirm to us if there is an infinite number of channels that can be added to the leanback launcher, it does seem as though you can add as many as you want, right now.
Interestingly, the recommendations row is still present albeit now in the form of the “Watch Next” row. Unlike the dedicated app rows, this row pulls recommendations from all the installed (and compatible Android TV apps), much the same as the current recommendations row does. So regardless of how many individual app rows are created, a centralized feed will still show up with recommendations from all (compatible) installed apps. Although as the image above shows, you do have the ability to stop the app from showing up in the 'Watch Now'' feed, which should limit the issue of having app content duplicated in more than one row. Of course, it is worth keeping in mind that as this is a developer preview (and not a finished product), some, or even all of these features, could change before the final version of Android O becomes available.
Google was also showcasing the Google Assistant compatibility with Android TV during our demonstration. However, it seems the Google Assistant was being demoed on the NVIDIA SHIELD and not the Nexus Player. With the difference being that the SHIELD is still running on Android 7.0 (Nougat) and not Android O.
So while we were able to take a look at the Google Assistant in action, we were not quite able to see the Google Assistant running in conjunction with this new Android O interface for Android TV. On a side note, NVIDIA did confirm earlier today that it is working on getting the Android O update ready for the NVIDIA SHIELD, although as to be expected with such an early developer release such as this, there are no firm details on when it will become available.