Ever since an FCC filing popped up showing what seemed to be an Android TV device in the form of a Chromecast dongle there has been massive speculation on what's next for Android TV. More alarmingly, there seems to be quite a few people (and media outlets) who are in favor of this merging of the Android TV and Chromecast form factors. Which is strange as they should be kept separate as they are totally different things.
They are similar but not the same
Yes, Android TV comes with Chromecast built-in but arguably they do not result in quite the same casting experience. Anyone who owns both a Chromecast and an Android TV device (even the mighty SHIELD) will likely vouch for how much more reliable an actual Chromecast is. For whatever reason, a Chromecast performs so much better than Android TV devices when casting and not just in terms of how quickly it is able to receive and broadcast the signal, but also how reliable the signal remains while casting. That, however, does not mean the same logic can be ported over to 'Android TV on a Chromecast.' In fact, it is probably more likely that the opposite will be true.
It's about the power
Android TV as a thing, is a much more demanding thing. More importantly, it is much more of an Android thing. Chromecast, on the other hand, is simply a lightweight device that mirrors your display. Which means all the processing is happening on the smartphone. In contrast, all the processing power with Android TV happens in the box. Bringing Android TV over to a Chromecast form factor would suggest the actual device will be less capable of processing and may even somehow require some of that processing to occur at a smartphone level – à la Chromecast. Which is the first obvious disadvantage of a merging like this. As Android TV is exactly the type of TV experience an Android user will want on their TV. One that is local to the device, separate from their phone, and able to handle the load placed on it. Which is where the Android thing point comes in. While smartphones are able to multi-task and have multiple windows open in the background, Chromecast is not about that as its purpose is just to cast content from one window. That is not the case with Android TV which is built to accommodate multiple windows open in the background… Netflix, YouTube TV, Hulu, and so on. They are typically all running at the same time and all placing their own strain on the device. And this is without even taking into consideration one of the heaviest processor-draining aspects of Android TV, gaming.
What about the gamers?
One of the other major issues is that those advocating for Android TV in Chromecast form is simply ignoring the world of Android TV gaming. This is arguably one of the main reasons why the SHIELD has become the go-to Android TV box for many. As it is almost purpose-built for gamers offering support for a wide selection of Android games, as well as games that NVIDIA has specifically worked on to port over to the Android TV platform – games that are not typically designed to run on Android. As a result, gaming matters on Android TV and a Chromecast dongle — again — does not seem as though it would be built or able to handle a premium gaming experience – the form is all wrong. Not to mention, while everyone is focusing on the "Chromecast with a remote control" in the FCC filing there is no gamepad. Further evidence maybe of how this type of device is just not built for gamers at all. Take a look at the Fire TV Stick and Roku stick for comparison. While these sum up what many want to see in an Android TV stick they are not exactly gaming devices.
It's not just about an Android TV bias either
While many seem to be focused on the benefits of having a hidden Android TV device in dongle form, many people won't want that. In fact, many won't want Android TV at all. If these two worlds merge then it would seem Chromecast — as it currently is — would cease to be, as it would seem unlikely Google would want to have both an Android TV Chromecast and a non-Android TV Chromecast on the market – that would be just too confusing. So the likelihood is that Chromecast would absorb Android TV and come pre-loaded with some version of it – Android TV Go maybe? And this is not good news for those who want a Chromecast just to cast content to a big screen. Some won't want a fuller and richer Google TV interface and this sort of design will force them to use Android TV. Likewise, they will likely have to pay more for it as while an Android TV dongle will be cheaper than a box, it seems unlikely to be as cheap as a passive Chromecast. It is in everyone's best interest to keep the product lines separate as they cater to different consumer needs.
The reality is, if Android TV arrives in Chromecast form it will not be as powerful as it can be in Android TV form. It will also not be as gamer-centric as it is in a 'console form.' In other words, it will be a lesser experience and product overall. Yes, you would be able to hide the box better but would you be happy with a PS4 in a dongle form just to hide it more? While a PS4 is significantly more powerful than an Android TV box the logic is the same – shrinking down the form factor will result in a less powerful and capable product in virtually every respect. Yes, Android TV does need a gateway product to help fuel adoption and a stick might be a solution worth considering as an entry-level product. But make no mistake, it will be an entry-level product, offering an entry-level experience. Not one that is designed for existing Android TV users. A smarter Chromecast experience should not automatically mean a dumbing down of Android TV and that is likely what will be on offer here.