Google TV, and Your Android Apps

Let’s assume, for the moment, that the New York Times article is correct: Google TV is coming, and it runs on Android. Let’s further assume that some, if not all, Google TV devices (or other TV set-top boxes) will allow third-party Android applications, versus routing everything through a Chrome-style browser. And, let’s further assume that the article is correct and developers will get tools “within the next couple of months” and that products “could appear as soon as this summer”.

What should you, the intrepid Android application developer, be thinking about?

First, think big…as in screens. Suffice it to say, one should expect Google TV to run on something bigger than a 3.5″ LCD. A 35″ LCD is probably closer. 720p (1280×720) and 1080p (1920×1080) seem likely supported screen resolutions. Android will probably handle these like they handled previous resolution changes, with some automatic scaling plus the option for you to specify your own appropriately-formatted resources (e.g., res/layout-reallyfrakkinhuge). You still wind up with more screen real estate than you might ever have thought possible, and it is up to you to figure out what to do with it.

Then, think low…as in density. A 37″ 1080p screen will have lower density than a 27″ 1080p screen, which probably has lower density than the monitor you’re looking at now, which certainly has lower density than any Android phone. So, while you have lots more pixels, each pixel also will take up more physical space than before.

Next, think far…as in the user’s distance from the screen. Most people using a smartphone will use it at arm’s length at most, frequently closer. Most people watching TV will watch it at arm’s length at least, frequently farther. The net of these first three points is that it will take some time for us to work out the heuristics for what will look good on a TV compared to looking good on a phone.

Later, think remote…as in remote controls. You may have been spoiled by Android devices generally sporting touchscreens, even if they were a mix of resistive (stylus) and capacitive (finger) styles. Most TVs aren’t touchscreens, except around small children. It is rather likely that a Google TV will offer some sort of remote control, perhaps like those available for the Neuros Link or upcoming Boxee Box. Figure that users will be using trackballs or arrow keys to navigate the app, just like they might use a D-pad or trackball on a phone. The good news is that you can get all of this working on your app today, if it’s not working automatically.

Then, think poor…in terms of features you might be used to in Android devices. I doubt a TV set-top box will have GPS, for example, so any code of yours that assumes GPS for location will need to be made more flexible. Similarly, many Google TV setups probably will lack traditional GSM/CDMA telephony, SMS capability, and the like. The home screen will probably be vastly different, there may not be a camera on some models, etc. Now, an Android set-top box might have other positive features (e.g., more space for apps), but some things that make sense for a device in your pocket will not make sense for a device sitting underneath a TV.

Finally, think rich…in terms of the possibilities. Whether it is formal Google TV or devices from other firms, an Android set-top box offers new avenues for distribution of your applications, through the Android Market, through OEM bundling deals, etc. If and when this stuff becomes available, are there opportunities related to your existing apps, or other ideas you have been kicking around, that might work great on a TV? It might even be worthwhile for you to pick up a Link, or play with Boxee on your PC, to see how they approach the set-top box arena, to give you other ideas.

In the meantime, the (Android) world waits to see whether or not, in this case, the New York Times’ news was, indeed, fit to print.

  • Mark

    This raises an interesting question on how to layout the gui. For touch screens, controls (e.g. buttons) would be specified in dips because your fingertip remains the same size no matter what size/density screen you are touching.

    However, for screens out of reach things are a little different. The physical size of controls should probably be more related to how far the user is from the screen. If they are within touching distance then the size would be the same as for a touch screen. If they are 10m away then the controls should be much bigger.

    For such screens (like TVs) its probably better to use percentages (of screen dimensions) because people are used to screen images being simply scaled to fit.

    • Trent

      The remote controller absolutely must be a touch screen hand held device, tablet would be best (making it less likely to lose the remote). You navigate from your sofa using the tablet, and select what your TV will display using touch on your tablet.

      You will watch streaming video on the TV, you will view pictures on the TV, you will navigate on the tablet. My preference is to view my email using the display of my tablet controller, I don't need to view my email on my TV except when someone sends me a nice picture.

      • Mark Murphy

        That may be a possibility as an option — I think there's a PC World article that suggests the remote actually be an Android device, such as your phone. But "absolutely must" is a stretch, as there are many set-top boxes on the market, few if any of which have a "touch screen hand held device". Roku doesn't. Neuros Link doesn't. The Boxee Box won't. PCs running a Media Center-capable Windows generally don't. Apple TV doesn't (though I think there's an app for that…). And so on.

        • Agreed, I doubt about "absolutely must" touchscreen remotes. All the reasons against:
          – Terrible battery life
          – Easily broken by a dog, two-year-old, etc.
          – More prone to crashes and restarts
          – Far more expensive

          The market here speaks loudly – outside of a few Logitech and Sonos controllers, how many can you (or, more accurately, an average high-tech consumer) name off the top of your (their) head?

          • Trent

            You are correct, I meant to say that the touchscreen remotes must be an option. Why? Because that is what I want to use. I can search netflix (and preview) the movie on the small Android phone. Then I touch an icon and the TV starts playing the movie.

            Apple TV already has this app, so I am sure Google will have the same app. Perfect, I am happy.

  • Nick

    "Most TVs aren't touchscreens, except around small children."
    Love it :-D!

  • Jan

    I'm sure your Android phone will be the remote – I guess that's the whole idea. And there will be Apps for Iphone etc. as well…

  • All these usability issues can be worked out.
    I would really love it if there are capabilities that could give your app information about upcoming programs, shows, trivia, whatever. Tivo on steriods 🙂

  • thank you for sharing. i like it :p

  • Joe L.

    Hi Joe here and as a DISH Network employee, I just ran across your posts. I just wanted to say that I had had the chance to use the Google TV and this is great.

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