Android TV: Is This Really The Google Pixel Player?

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So this popped up this week at the FCC. Android TV seemingly wrapped within a smaller form factor than has been seen before – a dongle. Since the FCC listing was spotted the internet has been rife with speculation on whether this is indeed a new Android TV device, and more importantly, one Made by Google. There is no doubt that Android TV — and by association, Google — is in need of a new Android TV device. It just is. The Nexus Player has now been officially retired and to say the box market is limited in choice would be an understatement. Not to mention competing services (namely, Amazon and Roku) have both already ventured into the dongle market before and their respective options seem to act as a good gateway product to a service. A gateway product is also something Android TV is massively in need of, and something it has been in need of for a very long time – as was argued back in September, 2016.

In spite of these needs, need does not automatically equate to getting, and this is partly why the generic-looking, but Google-branded dongle has caused such a commotion. However, when it comes to Google and actual solutions to a problem, it is usually better to err on the side of caution. As there is a lot to be concerned about here and even if this is an Android TV dongle endorsed by Google, it remains to be seen where it will fit in with the bigger Pixel picture. The problem with a dongle is that it is by definition a lesser product. After all, it is designed to be more affordable, more accessible, more entry-level. So while this would be a good gateway product for Android TV it feels as though it would be out of kilter with Google's Pixel mantra. As the Pixel line is more focused on being a premium brand, offering a premium experience, and at a premium price. This dongle will not be in line with that Pixel philosophy at all. Not at the design level, or at the spec level. Yes, the specs are OK but OK is not premium. Even more so when the device in question is a dongle. For example, storage is listed as 8GB and this is an issue for a device that runs something like Android TV. As once the initial interface has taken up its allocation of storage, there is not a lot of room left to store additional apps, games and content. Yes, Android TV can make use of 'adoptable storage' and this literally has proven to be a great feature because of the nature of Android TV, but adoptable storage relies on additional hardware like a USB port or microSD card slot – which this device has neither. To note, it does have a USB port but this is a power port and not one which could be used for expanding the storage. So just at the storage level, this is not a premium device or a premium Android TV experience, and it is unlikely to be available at a premium price.

If anything, the specs seem like they have been lifted right off the Mi Box. While some may argue that further adds to the suggestion this is a Google-branded product, it doesn't, as it is a fairly lazy approach and one which again does not fit in with the Pixel mantra. The remote control is a prime example. While a lot has been made of the Google Assistant branding on the remote, this is not any old remote – this is the remote from the Mi Box. The resemblance goes way beyond being uncanny and much more into the realms of direct replication. Even the Google Assistant button is not a new button but instead the 'Home' button rebranded. So is it believable that Google would lift the form factor from the Mi Box remote and simply recycle it as-is? Also, keep in mind, while this is a third-party product (as was the Mi Box), Made by Google products are generally understood to be made-to-order by Google, with the company typically having a clear input on the design it wants for its products. Would Google really want the Mi Box remote for its Pixel-branded Android TV Player? Seems doubtful. Even more so, when you consider the Mi Box was not a Made By Google product. It is a Xiaomi product and although many associate this as being endorsed by Google, it was not endorsed as a 'Google product.' This even more suggests Google is unlikely to so blatantly replicate the remote control of a third-party — albeit, partner — remote control. Again, it is just not the Pixel way of doing things.

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Based on assertions like this, it would seem heavily unlikely this product will be branded as a Pixel Player, or a Pixel Stick, or anything else Pixel-related. If anything, this could suggest this is more likely to arrive as a Home-branded product. After all, while Home products are also thought to be premium (to a degree), there are cheaper options available such as the Google Home Mini – which place less focus on the premium experience and acts more of a gateway to the service. So it could be argued this might arrive as the Google's 'Home TV.' That would at least make more sense than Pixel TV but the issue here is that Google Home is specific when it comes to its look. The Home line is very much about style and the images shown off here go against the grain of what a Home product is, and what it should look like. If we take this at the very superficial level then the absence of fabric is a big tell. Google likes its Home products to come with more of a 'home' feel and you only have to head over to the Homepage on the Google Store to see this approach in action, as Google advertises its Home products along with a banner image of a sofa which looks like it was made from the same fabric – at the very least, it sports the same 'home' look. Yes, one could argue it would not be wise to cover a device that is so closely positioned to a heat source like a TV with a fabric material but that does not mean the dongle would be void of any and all Home-themed design cues. Even more revealing, the recycled Mi Box remote would certainly be more Home-like.

Which means, if this is actually a Google product, we are only left with one last option – Chromecast branding. But this is where things start to get super confusing. Yes, the design is very much in line with Chromecast. But, adding Android TV to Chromecast seems like a very strange thing to do as all Android TV devices come with Chromecast functionality included. So Google would in effect be releasing an Android TV device and labeling it as one of the Android TV features, not Android TV itself. This would seem to be a backward approach to a product designed to showcase Android TV. However of the options, Chromecast is the family of Google products where this would best fit in. So while confusing, it would seem to be the most likely option. This is, if, it is a Google-branded product.

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So what if it is not actually a Google product but just another Android TV option from a third-party? This could be the case although this is where the "G" branding becomes problematic. While there are plenty of instances where one product rips off the branding of another, with Android TV that is less possible due to the way the platform works. For a device to run proper Android TV, the device needs to have the OK from Google. This is effectively the difference between proper Android TV and Android boxes for the TV as the first is essentially a licensed product by Google. The FCC filing does seem to suggest whatever this product is, it does come with proper Android TV and therefore, would have been given the OK by Google. But, would Google really licence a product that is copying its own company branding? Unlikely.

Which means we are left very much where we started off with no real idea of what this is or what it will be branded as. The more deeper this is looked into, the more questions and inconsistencies arise. It just does not make sense on all levels.

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Editor-in-Chief

John has been writing about and reviewing tech products since 2014 after making the transition from writing about and reviewing airlines. With a background in Psychology, John has a particular interest in the science and future of the industry. Besides adopting the Managing Editor role at AH John also covers much of the news surrounding audio and visual tech, including cord-cutting, the state of Pay-TV, and Android TV. Contact him at [email protected]

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