By December 2017, Android TV will be dead. Google could barely care any less about it, and there’s another platform that is way better for both the company and consumers. So let’s just be honest: being upset Android TV is on the way out is ridiculous. Who cares about it? You don’t. I definitely don’t. Even Google doesn’t. The mountain of hardware partners Google announced when Android TV launched was impressive, but they’ve all left the platform high and dry because of little flexibility and and poor demand. Seeing what Android is capable of on mobile devices makes Android TV look like a boring, locked-up product from a company who doesn’t play nice with others. Android TV should be open and change-friendly. Instead it exists like Apple TV where what you buy is all you get.
Yet again, Google is going to let its platform for the living room slip away without ever trying to fix things. At least this time there’s a replacement that can do better than anything we’ve ever seen. It would be best if Google cut off Android TV today and shifted those resources to Google Cast.
Android TV isn’t Google’s first rodeo in the living room. More than five years ago, Google built a platform to instantaneously create a smart television for anyone who purchased a Google TV-powered television or set-top box. Google TV offered dedicated apps that could be played right on top of traditional programming on television as it connected to television providers’ own set-top boxes.
Companies backing Google TV included Sony and Logitech with LG, Vizio, and ASUS following shortly after. Google TV, as seen by those hardware manufacturers, wasn’t lacking support. It lacked direction. The televisions and set-top boxes were insanely expensive, and no one could tell Google TV was meant to replace a cable or satellite subscription. Remember this was in 2010 when media players like Apple TV and Roku were just getting popular. Those options were simple because they connected through a different input and featured their own separate user interfaces. Consumers knew, if they wanted to stream something, they could go to one of those devices. Televisions and set-top boxes with Google TV were confusing everyone, especially with outlandish pricing.
Despite wanting to hang on and keep it around, Google TV was finally put down for good in January 2015. Google had better plans to get you to use Android in your living room but one thing came about between Google TV’s shutdown and Android TV’s debut.
Before Android TV was born, a little $35 dongle became the golden boy the media player world.
The original Chromecast was a big surprise in 2013. It burst onto the scene with a slim price tag and big potential. The concept of the device was simple: mirror whatever is normally on your phone or tablet’s screen to your television. No need for specialized apps or anything else. If you have a wireless connection and a display with an HDMI port, the Chromecast is ready for use.
Google purposely waited as long as possible before releasing a successor to the first device and for a totally valid reason. The Chromecast’s hardware is basically meaningless. The technology, called Google Cast, is what’s vital. Google Cast detects supported devices on a network and then displays its icon on phones and tablets so that you can start casting movies, television shows, music, games, and more.
It took less than two years for 17 million units to be sold and Google has proudly watched Chromecast climb the charts as one of the most popular media players. Because of Google Cast, Google was able to become a serious player in a field that it struggled to make noise in with Google TV.
Oddly, Google still wasn’t satisfied with its presence in home entertainment. Maybe it was the desire to put Android on every screen you have. Or perhaps it was a disappointment that Apple and Amazon had more expensive media players selling very well. After all, the margins can’t be all that big when the Chromecast sells for just $35 with various promotions before and after buying. Whatever it was that Google felt caused the company to create Android TV, a move that is now viewed as a big mistake to me.
Google put pressure on the Chromecast and Google Cast at Google I/O 2014, the week that Android TV became a thing.
Android TV is similar to Google TV — like really, really similar. The clear difference is Android TV’s alignment with Android, of course. This platform has dedicated apps like Google TV, but they don’t run on top of your television provider’s setup. To get to Android TV, you have to switch inputs. From there, it’s almost like you’re using Android on a bigger screen. Android TV lives in its own world familiar to anyone with another Android device.
Google was given exactly what it wanted two years ago: commitment from the outside. Sharp and Sony raised their hands to make televisions while ASUS and Razer signed up to release set-top boxes. On top of that, various partners like Qualcomm, Marvell, Intel, and NVIDIA expressed approval for Android TV. It really appeared that Google was going to barge into your living room with a ready-to-alter platform for its partners.
Momentum generated by Android TV coming to fruition in 2014 vanished in a matter months. The Nexus Player, a set-top box built by ASUS on behalf of Google, was a major letdown. Instead of rolling out a device that was even halfway decent, Google allowed a
piece of junk lightweight lead the way. It featured an Intel Atom Z3560 processor, 1GB of RAM, and 8GB of internal storage. Skimping on the latter two is a problem with almost any type of device, but Google decided getting the Nexus Player to cost $99 was more important than performance.
Thankfully for everyone involved, the Nexus Player is no longer in production; however, that doesn’t indicate better devices are around. Device after device, we’ve been disappointed.
Two gaming-driven brands got behind Android TV with their own set-top boxes, and only NVIDIA’s has survived one year later. Razer showed up with an ambitious plan to have full gaming from PCs stream on its Forge TV. Well, Razer’s set-top box flopped. Consumers and critics weren’t kind. The serious gaming set-top box was NVIDIA’s SHIELD, which was and still is Google’s scapegoat for Android TV.
The issue with gaming set-top boxes is that they’re completely useless. Gamers already have a high-end PC or a video game console to do the heavy lifting. Non-gamers — those who want to play a little bit of Crossy Road here and there — have a phone or tablet on-hand to fulfill their wants.
Next up to fail is Xiaomi’s Mi Box. The Chinese company is, bizarrely, choosing to release a set-top box with Android TV before it takes its phones and tablets to key markets like the North America. Nothing is going to change when the Mi Box goes on sale. Sure, it supports 4K resolution. As does the SHIELD. But we’d all be lying saying 4K resolution on a set-top box was important to us. The format isn’t even mainstream yet.
The Mi Box, like the set-top boxes from NVIDIA and Razer, is facing a disadvantage that only Google can be blamed for.
Bringing up Android TV-powered televisions is pointless. These smart televisions are expensive and chances are you have a device capable of running circles around Android TV connected to your current television.
The proverbial nail in the coffin for Android TV? The company skipped any mention of the platform during its Google I/O 2016 keynote and then quietly slipped in an announcement while that presentation was going on. It’s dying. We would have seen the platform showcased in Mountain View to get people interested again had Google cared about Android TV and its future. Since Android TV was missing from the keynote, we weren’t given false hope. We were reminded that Android TV doesn’t matter.
No cares about Android TV, not even Google. Why bother anymore?
Google Cast is so straightforward it’s baffling Google hasn’t ditched Android TV yet. A real push has been made by Google, following its rebranding of the technology, to get Google Cast into new devices.
Vizio has three SmartCast series with Google Cast-ready televisions starting for as little as $229. Their SmartCast E-Series 50-inch model can actually be purchased for less than $500! You’re getting the power of Google Cast, a superior technology compared to Android TV, for way less than what most of those awkward smart televisions cost. Polaroid will be joining Vizio with its own line of 4K televisions that feature Google Cast.
Then there are countless audio products from companies like Vizio, LG, and Sony that support Google Cast. Versatility is nowhere to be found on Android TV.
While your phone or tablet acts as the controller for Google Cast, Android TV requires a controller provided by the television or set-top box maker. Android TV forces you into an unnecessary place from the get-go. Google Cast, meanwhile, lets you use what you already have by your side all the time. The people who I’ve chatted with have been split down the middle as to whether or not you could rely on your phone or tablet as a remote. As you might have guessed, I’m firmly believe you can. What happens if you’re using a controller and it breaks? Better have backup. Google Cast doesn’t care what happens because you can use another phone or tablet to command devices.
Android TV’s inferiority to Google Cast is apparent from the moment you start using either platform. Google Cast is cheaper to get into, you already have what you need, and you’re not crossing your fingers that an update comes along that may or may not reach your device. Android TV can be very expensive, it requires specific controllers, and you’re gambling supported apps and software updates.
Google Cast is a companion for my phone and tablet. It’s not ‘another thing’ I have to buy. Android TV is a separate place that I have venture off to. When I want to stream Seinfeld on Hulu, Android TV offers no incentive. Google Cast, though, just asks me to fire up the Hulu app. If I’m feeling in the mood to play a game, Google Play’s catalog is weak and NVIDIA’s own game streaming service is pricey for most. And I have an Xbox One to play real titles on, not to mention the phone or tablet I have can crank out performance with sharp graphics. That’s why my NVIDIA SHIELD is collecting dust while my two Chromecasts are used multiple times per week. Even if you don’t have a video game console like me, Google Cast is the better choice based on simplicity and price. Buying a $35 streaming stick or a $1,000 television with Google Cast is way smarter than putting trust into Android TV at any price.
Android TV was set up to fail and Google is having a hard time letting go, but Google just needs to know that it’s fine for Android TV to go away. A tear won’t be shed. Google Cast is here (and always has been) to save the day.