Earlier this week a report came through which seemed to be suggesting that a new Android TV device was due to be released within the next few months. The details on this box were pretty limited, although the information was said to have come (or at least been confirmed) by multiple sources. What was interesting though, is that this is not expected to be any old Android TV device, but one which Google has a vested interest in.
So like the Nexus Player from 2014 or the Mi Box from 2016, the idea here is that Google is working with an unnamed third-party manufacturer to bring to market a new Android TV device. A staple Android TV device, if you will. Which on the face of it does make sense. Android O is just around the corner and compared to the previous versions of Android, this one brings quite the visual change to the Android TV platform. So it would make sense that Google would want a device to be available that showcases this latest version of Android, and more importantly, showcases Google’s vision for its latest version of Android TV.
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But what is less clear is (a) who the third-party manufacturer is likely to be, (b) what the new player would be called, and (c) how much it would cost. At present, HTC is understood to be making one of the new Pixel phones with LG pointed to as the manufacturer behind the other new Pixel phone. In spite of LG already having dipped its toes in the Android TV world, it seems highly unlikely that either of these companies will be behind a new Android TV player. If nothing else, they will be busy with the launch of the new Pixels, and their own smartphones. Of course, Google could turn to Xiaomi again for a follow-up device to the Mi Box, but that also seems unlikely. As the truth is – the Mi Box does not seem to be proving to be a popular option among Android TV enthusiasts. While it is cheap, there are multiple reports on how buggy the software and general experience is. Not to mention, Xiaomi seems to be quite a bit behind when it comes to Android TV updates. Something which Google is unlikely to want to be the case with a new model. Which brings us to ASUS.
ASUS is of course, the manufacturer behind the original Nexus Player and in spite of its problems, this was a unit which many still seem fond of. Likely in part due to the fact that you can still install the latest versions of Android on the Nexus Player, on the day of release. It is much more in keeping with Google and its approach to its devices. So ASUS would certainly be the sort of manufacturer who could be behind an upcoming Android TV device. In fact, this is something that ASUS hinted on towards the end of 2015, fueling more speculation that a new Google/ASUS device could come in 2016. Although that was not the case. With the Nexus Player now essentially three years old though, and the Mi Box unable to maintain a reliable and consistent update policy, a new Nexus Player seems ripe for the picking.
The issue is though, the Nexus range is largely non-existent now. Google has moved on to the Pixel branding and seems keen to continue that Pixel approach going forward. With devices that are ‘made by Google.’ So does this mean that that we should be expecting a Pixel Player now? Well, that is a conversation which was had almost exactly one year ago. And while the possibility still seems to be there, it is unclear as to whether Google would want to brand a new Android TV box as Pixel. As in spite of Google positioning Pixel as its flagship line, a Pixel Player is unlikely to be a flagship product. So it would not fit the Pixel mold all that well. Which brings us neatly onto the last point, the price.
There is no escaping that Android TV needs a solid entry-level product for people to test the service out and for the service to expand its market share. Pricing a unit too high will see it directly competing with the likes of the NVIDIA SHIELD – something that is unlikely to bode well for a new device. The SHIELD has become the go-to unit and with good reason. A new device from Google and whoever, would seriously need to be packing in the features and hardware to be any sort of competition to the NVIDIA SHIELD, and that is just not likely to be the case. The Nexus Player, the Mi Box, are affordable and accessible units and it stands to reason this approach would continue with the new model. Which would suggest this new box would come in below the $100 marker. Which then means it is encroaching on Google’s own devices like the Chromecast Ultra. Released only last year, the Chromecast Ultra is priced at $69 and does offer a good amount of features for that price. So it seems unlikely that (a) a new Chromecast will be unveiled this year, and (b) that a new Android TV device can drop anywhere near that $69 price, as it would be counter-intuitive for an existing product that sells well. Unless of course Google then market-wide drops the price of the Chromecast Ultra to under $50. Which although possible, seems unlikely to be the case at the moment.
So while there is speculation that Google and someone is going to release a new Android TV device, there are issues which need to be overcome before that can happen. At present, Google does not have a solid gap in its pricing structure to accommodate a new Android TV device – at least not one which would lead to the type of sales Google and other would want. Likewise, Google does not really have a branding-placement for this product at the moment. It is unlikely to be Nexus, and just as unlikely to be Pixel-branded. Which could mean that like the Mi Box, this might not be positioned as a Google product at all, but instead just comes to market as a new product from a third-party manufacturer. Which although good (as the market is in need of a new player), it is not quite the same as having a new Nexus Player or Pixel Player – the Mi Box has proven that.