The standard Android TV remote control app leaves a lot to be desired. On the positive side, the app’s functionality is not terrible. It works most of the time and can really be a life-saver when you lose the actual remote control, or just run out of batteries. In these instances, firing up the Android TV remote control app will allow you to control basic elements of the system. So on that side of things, it is fine and works as it should. However, it is far from being a great app, and arguable, even a good app. The functionality is limited and even some core features are missing. Something which becomes even more apparent if you start surfing the Google Play Store and looking at the type of content that is on offer with other Android app-based remote control apps.
That said, it seems as though Google and specifically the Android TV team, are working on a new Android TV remote control app and one which may prove to be far more useful than Android TV owners could hope for. While the confirmation of this came through earlier this week, some Android TV users may have missed it. As it was buried within a wider announcement detailing the launch of the Nearby Connections 2.0 API. This was an announcement mostly aimed at developers and one which looks to explain the benefits on offer with this latest version of Nearby Connections, so developers can take advantage of those benefits when developing their own apps.
The reason for the new Android TV app's inclusion in the wider announcement is that the new app is “powered by Nearby Connections.” Which is where the real interesting part emerges. As Nearby Connections is an API which lets an app or device connect to things around it. The API achieve this by making use of a combination of Bluetooth, BLE, and Wi-Fi to establish those connections. So what does seem to be clear is that this will be a much more powerful remote control app, as it will be one which can more easily, and more effectively, connect to objects/devices/services around it. The brief mention of the app further went on to suggest that this will be especially useful for Android TV gamers as among other things, the new app will “enable subsequent second screen experiences.” Although this is likely to be a feature that will expand way beyond just gaming and will likely offer second-screen experiences to all types of Android TV users. For example, a more interactive approach to managing watchlists or navigating TV guides on a smartphone/tablet while watching TV in the background without the need for an on-screen overlay.
More points to note, as the new Nearby Connections is also designed to connect to more devices, it stands to reason that a Nearby Connections-powered remote control app will also be able to leverage that ability and connect to more devices around the home. Essentially tapping more into the IoT, which makes perfect sense for Android TV when you consider the addition of Google Assistant to the platform. On that basis, it seems the new app will (at the very least have the potential to) be more of a centralized app to interact with Android TV’s version of Google Assistant, and by association, everything connected/managed by Google Assistant. The second additional point to note is that Nearby Connections 2.0 also comes with the ability to connect even when offline. Which is something that could also be very interesting from the Android TV perspective, as this would mean that the app will no longer need a Wi-Fi connection to connect to Android TV devices. Or at least, not be as reliant on one as it currently is. On a final note, (while useful, but less exciting), the new remote will also “simplify” the initial setup process.