Even compared to Android Auto, Android’s TV incarnation hasn’t exactly been getting much attention, especially from Google itself. The past months, however, have been particularly interesting, especially with rumors around Google’s first Android TV dongle. As if heralding the arrival of that “Sabrina” device, Google has now announced the Android 11 update for Android TV, promising to bring a handful of improvements that will hopefully prepare the platform for the future.
With so many smart TV platforms out there, including those from Samsung (Tizen), LG (webOS), and Apple (tvOS), it isn’t really that surprising that Android TV hasn’t exactly caught on. Aside from access to streaming apps, which other platforms and set-top boxes also have, Android TV may not look like it has much else to offer. Of course, you have access to some popular Android apps but viewing them on a larger screen might not exactly be that attractive.
Of course, Google now has a Stadia game streaming service that could give Android TV devices a new use case, at least for gamers. It’s no surprise, then, that one of the high points of this Android 11 update is extended game controller support, adding the Nintendo Switch Pro and Steam controllers to its compatibility list. There is also support Auto Low Latency Mode and low latency media decoding, both of which also benefit gaming scenarios.
Android 11 itself brings performance improvements under the hood. Security was also one of the release’s core focus and apps get the same one-time permissions system that’s available on mobile. Google is positioning Android TV as a more secure platform, perhaps to encourage its use for e-commerce and business communication, like video conferencing.
None of these, however, matter if app developers can’t easily develop or test Android TV apps, which is why Google is also announcing improved tooling support. That said, all of that will also be pointless unless Android TV becomes truly ubiquitous, which an affordable Android TV dongle could definitely help with.