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Google just might power the streaming box of your dreams in 2019

On paper, Google has all of the substances to ship a killer streaming TV participant. It has a formidable tool platform in Android, a major voice assistant in Google Assistant, and a knack for designing slick tool and .

What we’ve ended up with as a substitute is Android TV, a platform that’s gotten some traction on good TVs and cable containers, however hasn’t been a success on standalone streaming gamers. Gadgets just like the Nvidia Defend TV and the Xiaomi Mi Field S be offering some area of interest attraction, and Android TV has at all times introduced some attention-grabbing concepts, nevertheless it’s by no means met its doable as Google put extra power into Chromecast as a client streaming possibility.

This may trade in 2019, says Shalini Govil-Pai, Google’s senior director of product control for Android TV. In an interview at CES Las Vegas, Govil-Pai mentioned Google is totally rethinking the Android TV enjoy for shoppers, and giving it a lot more consideration general.

“Our largest traction unquestionably has been with operators and good TVs, and it’s very reasonable that the OTT set-top field base has now not been the largest center of attention,” mentioned Govil-Pai. “However we’re converting that during 2019. So preferably we’d adore it to be no less than a 3rd of our center of attention going ahead.”

New workforce, new concepts

The impetus for this variation is in part Govil-Pai herself. A 12-year Google veteran, Govil-Pai have been a director for YouTube till the former head of Android TV, Sascha Prueter, left Google remaining fall. Govil-Pai took the helm and her workforce started rethinking what was once and wasn’t running.

Something become obvious: Android TV wasn’t in reality capitalizing on Google’s seek engine and AI chops.

“Google’s power is in seek and discovery, so we’re in reality that specialize in how we will be able to do the most productive process—this is, a Google-level process—to unravel that buyer ache level of ‘Whats up, such a lot content material, what do I watch?’” mentioned Govil-Pai.

The shopper model of Android TV is now getting but any other redesign—its 2nd in lower than two years. Google isn’t able to sing their own praises what it’s been running on, as the corporate remains to be experimenting with other approaches, however Govil-Pai mentioned the outcome will contain extra personalised suggestions, and can make catching up on what you’re already gazing more uncomplicated. In provider of the ones concepts, Google would possibly remodel and even get rid of some present options, such because the rows of content material suggestions from particular person apps at the house display.

jbl link soundbar2 Google/JBL

Harman tapped Android TV for its JBL Link Bar, which was supposed to ship last fall. It’s telling that Google’s OS won’t be part of the very similar—if slightly more upscale—Harman Kardon Citation soundbar.

“The goal is, how do we get the user to the content that they want, and that they’re entitled to, as fast as possible. That’s the goal,” Govil-Pai says. “If rows helps us do it, we’ll continue with rows. If there are other, more innovative ways that we get them to it, we will do that.”

Righting wrongs

Even with a new redesign, Google will still have to convince app makers to support the platform.

That’s been a challenge in the past. Some major streaming services, like DirecTV Now, don’t offer Android TV apps at all, while others have ignored Android TV features such as channel rows and universal search. Even Google hasn’t thrown full support behind Android TV, as apps like Google Photos and YouTube Music are absent from the platform.

Govil-Pai describes this as a chicken-or-egg problem, with not enough users to justify developer investment in Android TV apps. Still, she believes the problem is starting to resolve itself as Android TV gets more adoption on smart TVs and cable boxes. (Google revealed in December that the platform has “tens of millions” of users.)

“I would say that Android TV is at the point where distribution actually matters, and so we’re actually seeing a lot of traction now from app developers to develop for the platform,” she said.

App support isn’t the only longstanding issue that Google now wants to address. The company is trying to reduce the memory requirements for Android TV, so it can work on cheap hardware, and Govil-Pai says Google is working with Netflix on ways for smaller device makers to support the app on their products. (The latter issue has hamstrung devices like the Channel Master Stream+, which hasn’t been gotten Netflix to certify its hardware.) One solution, Govil-Pai said, might involve a reference design of sorts that would allow Netflix to certify any device, regardless of vendor.

“We are working very closely with Netflix on a lot of these topics,” she said.

Google is even reviving an old, mostly-forgotten feature that takes advantage of Android TV’s built-in Chromecast capabilities: With Netflix, if you launch a video through your phone with Chromecast, you can still use a physical remote to control to the corresponding app. Most other apps offer only basic playback control via the remote when you launch a video via Chromecast, which is a shame—especially for live TV apps, where you might want to use the remote for channel surfing.

“We’re doing it for all apps,” Govil-Pai says. “The reason being, as a platform, our strength for developers is their apps, so we do want to continue to lean into that.”

What about hardware?

I regret not asking Govil-Pai whether Google is working on any Android TV devices of its own (though I likely would have gotten a stock “nothing to announce” answer). Once Google has done the necessary software work, a “Pixel Player” or “Chromecast Plus” dongle would certainly help give Android TV a spark.

Govil-Pai did note, however, that Google is still working with JBL on the Link Bar, a soundbar that feeds Android TV to any television and also doubles as a Google Assistant smart speaker. Getting those capabilities just right has been a challenge, but Govil-Pai says feedback from the company’s internal testing has been excellent. The plan is to launch the device in the first half of this year.

“It’s a really complex product, and the reason we took it on is because it’s actually an amazing product,” Govil-Pai says.

As for where all of this leaves Chromecast, that’s not so clear. Govil-Pai says Chromecast “continues to be a very rock-solid offering,” designed for the specific use case of launching videos from a phone or tablet. At the same time, Android TV can do everything Chromecast can, and it’s becoming available on cheaper hardware. Perhaps that explains why I didn’t get a firm commitment on Chromecast’s future.

“We’re working through whether it makes sense for the two products to continue to live separately, given the fact that there are these two sets of use cases, and there are sets of demographics who may just want one versus the other,” Govil-Pai says.

Google still has a lot of work to do, and I’ve certainly been wrong in anticipating an Android TV resurgence before. But this time seems different. In 2019, Android TV will finally get the attention it needs.

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