LeEco arrived in the US with an Android TV bang making it clear it was here to stay. The only problem was, LeEco didn’t stay.
Within weeks of the fanfare of its arrival dying down the company begun to feel the pressure of actually arriving and slowly by slowly the news came through that LeEco was scaling back its operations in the US.
By this point, a number of the new LeEco TVs had already been sold, shipped, delivered, set up and Google account-linked, and since then the experience for those TV owners has probably been a bumpy one to say the least.
Like any product line/segment, updates are important. They are on a security level to ensure a device remains as best protected as possible from the newest threats. However, they are equally as important when it come to new features and you only have to look at the SHIELD TV to see how many new features can be added - after the fact.
The NVIDIA SHIELD TV has gained so many new features and supports over the last couple of years that’s it is almost a completely different product compared to the one that was originally announced. While that particular device might be an extreme example compared to the market as a whole, in reality it should be the norm.
In the same way, updates are just as important for many of the more boring aspects. Take “bug fixes and improvements” for example. This is a statement that’s pretty much attached to any and all device updates and most of the time that description is about all you get, leading many to just assume some random things are now a bit better. That's if, you've ever even given “bug fixes and improvements” a second thought to begin with.
If you ask an owner of a LeEco TV though, then they will probably clearly and acutely tell you just how important those regular bug fixes and improvements really are.
As ever since the company’s arrival and subsequent departure, LeEco TVs have received next to no updates. They did receive some early on although the last one to come through was not by any means recently.
Right now one of the models we have in our midst was last updated in the opening months of 2017 and is currently running a security patch dated March 1, 2017.
We're talking Android 6.0 (Marshmallow) here and in Android terms, that’s ancient.
Forgetting for the moment all the security issues with running this version of Android TV, the user experience has just fallen off a cliff of late.
Yes, this might have been a TV that was announced in October of 2016, and while that might sound old for a smartphone, it’s not that old for a TV. And certainly should not be old enough to where the experience is now as poor as it is. But it is, and that’s a direct result of the lack of updates. Something that's made all the more apparent considering the last update it got was six months after the product launched.
The experience is sluggish, the response is limited, and apps just sometimes don’t want to work at all. For quite a while Google’s own YouTube app has proved to be one of the biggest annoyances as it would crash on almost every occasion - it would open and allow you to start watching something but how long it remained open for was a guessing game.
A factory reset did somewhat fix that issue although not completely as the crashes are still there. They are just less often now and no longer the guaranteed event they once were.
Arguably, our individual TV is also likely to be one of the better-running individual LeEco Android TV units out there, as there's almost no third-party apps running on it. Essentially, it's still in an out-of-the-box state in this sense. It is just better to avoid running the risk of downloading any other apps and potentially placing any further strain on the experience.
It is that bad and there’s not a lot you can do about it.
As part of its attempt to create its own ecosystem LeEco completely skipped the standard Android TV update tool and instead opted for a highly custom updating experience. For example, there’s no update option in the settings at all -- a la Android -- and instead, all of the updates come through a dedicated LeEco app on the TV.
As you can imagine - the app itself hasn’t been updated in a long time either.
While LeEco certainly has reasons as to why it hasn’t updated its TV sets in the US, this is far from an isolated incident. LeEco is simply one of the better examples of the issue. There’s a number of other-branded TV sets powered by Android TV available and updates for the most part seem to be one of the most commonly talked about issues noted on social media and in the maker’s forums and communities.
Yes, there are those complaining because they want the very newest version of Android right now, but there’s far more users complaining that their system has not received the updates you would expect. Updates they should have received by now.
This is also not just an issue with cheaper TV sets, but one which affects products at every price level on the spectrum. It is an Android TV problem in general.
While more evident with some makers than others, this highlights one of the fundamental issues with the platform. As when you buy into an Android TV product, you are completely buying into that maker and therefore also at the complete mercy of that company’s commitment to keeping your device updated. In some cases, functional.
For example, the fact that a product is a LeEco product clearly supersedes the fact it is an Android product. Six months of what were arguably negligible updates is hardly what many would expect from any Android device, let alone a support level they would want to commit to if they knew in advance.
With more TVs coming to market every year underwritten by Android TV, this is an issue that's only going to become far worse as those TVs make it into more homes.
Some will of course argue how this is no different to smartphones or anything “Android” for that matter but TVs are a unique proposition. Likewise, while in theory developments like Project Treble might improve the situation Android-wide in the future, how it will impact on Android TV remains to be seen at the moment. For starters, to take advantage of Treble, devices need to be running on Android Pie and that's almost a no-no for most currently-owned Android TV products.
Those that are supported to a degree that they get bumped up to Pie are likely not the ones we are talking about here as they will by definition be supported devices. Making aspects like Treble not a solution to the current problem.
TV consumers should not be expected to have to “upgrade” each year just to ensure a reliable enough experience. If that is the case, then we’ve definitely taken a step back in the TV market: go back twenty years and TVs were built to last for twenty years. Arguably, a number of those built-to-last TVs might still be in operation, or at the very least, in an attic or basement and you could probably fire one of them up right now and find it works just fine.
In contrast, it is difficult to foresee a LeEco TV, or others like it, still in operation in a couple of years, let alone twenty. More to the point, even if it does spend the next twenty years in the attic or basement, it would be a safe bet that when you did fire a LeEco TV, or others like it up - there still wouldn’t be an update waiting.
For some Android TVs, there's no update coming.