Prior to the start of Google I/O 2018 it remained to be seen how interesting Google's developer-focused event would be from the Android TV perspective. There had been little news coming through in the way of leaks leading up to the event and the absence of large-scale Android TV news in general over the past few months seemed to indicate 2018 would be a quiet year for the platform. That was not the case though with a number of major announcements coming through over the last few days resulting in what was arguably one of the most interesting Android TV I/O events so far.
Android P is coming
Google announced the first developer outing of Android P a few months ago and Android TV was notably absent from the proceedings. Which at the time looked suspiciously like the platform had fallen out of favor. There was literally no developer preview version made available for Android TV, and no word on whether P would even come to Android TV. Though, that has now changed with Google confirming Android P is coming, while also releasing the P Preview SDK for Android TV, and confirming some of the changes that can be expected. Although arguably, these are more minor changes and ones which look to speed up the signing up process through the likes of autofill, auto-installation of apps, and set up notifications, as well as better performance on low-end Android TV devices.
A new device...but only for developers
Along with announcing Android P, Google also showcased a new Android TV device. Although, this is not a device which will be made available to the general public. Instead, the new ADT-2 follows in the footsteps of the ADT-1 as a device that is intended for development purposes. In other words, it is a developer device. What is of interest, however, is this is the device that had been recently spotted passing through the FCC confirming that device is now no longer expected to become generally available. While the ADT-2 is not meant for consumers, it does look like an interesting device due to its form factor that is more similar to a Chromecast than an actual Android TV box. Either way, with the lack of support now for the original ADT-1, and the Nexus Player having been retired at the software level, the arrival of the ADT-2 is not only timely, but very much in need if app developers are to support future versions of Android TV.
Android TV coming soon to a speaker near you
While the ADT-2 is not set for general release, one of the most interesting Android TV announcements to come from Google I/O was the introduction of the JBL LINK BAR. At the basic level this is just a soundbar, albeit one which comes with Google Assistant functionality - much like a number of new speakers now do. What makes the LINK BAR unlike those other speakers, however, is the LINK BAR also features Android TV. It is literally a soundbar that adds Android TV to your TV, making it the first speaker-related product to do so and highlighting how Android TV has now migrated over to a completely new form factor. What’s more, this is only the first of such products as Google has confirmed a number of “hybrid devices” like this will be released going forward. So while the box market is starting to look a little deserted and vacant, Android TV seems to be growing beyond traditional form factors which makes for an interesting-looking future. If nothing else, the arrival of hybrid devices may prove significant in helping to expose potential new users to the platform.
Android TV is growing
Speaking of new users, and while new form factors like the LINK BAR will help increase awareness of the platform, if Google is to be believed the platform seems to be growing sufficiently fine on its own merit. As Google took the opportunity at this year's event to confirm the number of new users to the platform has doubled in the past year alone. In addition, Google also confirmed that it's not just new users that are growing with more partners having now come on board. With Google specifically stating Pay TV operators and set-top boxes (STBs) are greatly helping to expand the availability of the ecosystem, more so than the direct-to-consumer product route. In other words, Android TV as a service seems to be the current best route to expanding adoption, quickly. Likewise, when it comes to content, Google states the Android TV ecosystem has never been more healthy or varied as there are now more than 3,600 Android TV-optimized apps and games available to download.
So yes, while little had been expected from Android TV going into this year’s event, it seems there was more than many might have bargained for. The news was not grand in terms of the number of announcements that came through but the ones that did come were of enough significance to suggest Google has not given up on the platform, contrary to the belief of some. Yes, there are hurdles which Android TV needs to overcome in the near-future including new devices and better app support, and it seems most of the announcements made at this year’s event were specifically aimed at remedying these issues. The takeaway from Google I/O 2018 - the future for Android TV now looks a little brighter than it did just a few days ago.