Android TV: Android P Proves Why Google Needs A Pixel Player

You may have heard the latest version of Android - “P” - is now available to download. This is just an early developer preview version, but it is still significant considering it provides the public with a firm snapshot of what the next Android OS version will look like. That is, unless you are talking about Android TV. While it does seem obvious that Android P will become available on Android TV, you would be forgiven for thinking otherwise. As this week, and while every crevice of Android P on mobile has been covered in the media, there has been absolutely no mention of Android TV’s implementation of it. And with good reason considering Google has no developer device (at least on the market) available. Which clearly highlights how desperately in need of a new Pixel Player the market is.

For those new to Google’s Android developer previews, while these are unfinished products they are made widely available to anyone who has a compatible device. Up until P, compatible was defined as the Pixel Phones and recent Nexus devices. This is where the Nexus Player came in as for each of the previous few Android OS developer release, the Nexus Player acted as the sole developer benchmark for Android TV. Take now for instance, while no third-party Android TV device runs the current version of Android - 8.0 (Oreo) - the Nexus Player has been able to since the first Oreo developer preview became available in March, 2017. However, when it comes to P, Google suddenly and rather unceremoniously dropped support for the Nexus line. Which inevitably includes the Nexus Player and this also meant Google did not release any downloadable version of the P developer preview for Android TV. After all, why would they without a compatible device?

This is unlikely to have a major impact on third-party devices as it is presumed Google will be seeding P’s code to them directly. Though third-part devices are not really the concern anyway as in spite of Oreo being released a year ago in developer form, it has yet to even make its way to third-party devices. So it is probably pretty safe to assume P will not be arriving anytime soon for those devices. Where the issue does lie is in the lack of the ability to showcase what the latest Android TV version has to offer. Having staple devices like the Nexus Player allows Google to actively promote the features that are coming to the platform. This builds awareness at the media and consumer levels, and ultimately, helps to garner further interest in the platform. Android P on Android TV is literally the next big thing for the platform and as it stands neither the media nor the general public are any wiser on what it will offer. Of course, with Google I/O due to take place soon it is likely that any major Android TV-related announcements will be made then. Though, even those announcements seem a little pointless at the moment. As it is almost impossible any Android TV device on the market will now see P before 2019. This would still likely be the case even if P was made fully available today.

Which leads to the much bigger issue for Android TV, fragmentation. This is something that has plagued Android mobile ever since the early days and it is thought to be one of the reasons Google brought forward the developer preview release schedule. As well as one of the motivations behind new Android flavors such as Android Oreo (Go Edition) - the idea being as many devices as possible (whether they be premium or entry-level) run a newer version of Android, and are updated more quickly. Avoiding, or as least mitigating against fragmentation in Android TV seems almost impossible now due to the lack of clarity on how many, if any, devices will have been updated to Oreo by the time P hits its general release. Resulting in a landscape where most current Android TV devices will be running two years behind what they should be running - at the very least. This is further compounded by the genuine concern of whether any of those devices will get updated to P in the first place, considering two years is commonly the finite support time offered to Android-related devices. Therefore, it very well could be the case that unless you own the SHIELD 2017 you might need to buy a new device before you ever get to use Android P. Though, that in itself might prove to be an issue and especially at the box level, as again, besides the SHIELD 2017 there hasn't been a new consumer Android TV box released since 2016 - highlighting another reason why a Pixel Player is so desperately needed.

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