Your browser is not supported. Please update it.

18 May 2020

Google said to be readying TV-led smart home push, and Android TV rebrand

A smattering of rumors suggests that Google is about to do something pretty significant in the television realm. While nothing has been publicly stated, it seems a push is imminent, involving a new Chromecast, a rework of its smart home app, and – most pertinently of all – the rebranding of Android TV.

Google is reported to be removing the ‘Android’ element of the Android TV brand – a strategy that has been playing out for some years now, seen in the shift from Android Wear to WearOS, as well as Android Pay to Google Pay. Google TV is the new name, as reported by 9to5Google, citing sources close to the action.

As we understand it, the rebrand would be for the consumer-facing business only, leaving the white-label Android TV Operator Tier platform side of the coin untouched. Although if it were rebranded to Google TV Operator Tier, then it would inconvenience a whole ecosystem of technology vendors and Operator Tier marketplaces.

So, suggestions are that Google is about to launch an actual TV, which would be quite a step up from Android TV’s old set-top and software approach. A few years ago, a TV would have been a pretty radical departure, but given the recent expansion into smart home hardware, audio entertainment, Nest, and also Fitbit, Google seems to have a hard-on for hardware.

A Google TV would actually slot into the smart home quite nicely. Its biggest rival, Amazon, has its own suite of dongles and set-tops, but while it has gone as far as microwaves and Alexa-enabled wall clocks, Amazon too has yet to launch a TV. Amazon does have software integrations with some brands, including Seiki and Toshiba (which includes Dolby Vision), but those have always seemed more of a hedge against the encroachment of Roku’s similar approach, as well as that of Android TV. The Fire TV ecosystem claims some 34m monthly active users, and is slowly becoming more closely integrated with Alexa’s voice commands.

So, would Google launching a TV trigger a response from Amazon? The two are pretty established rivals in the smart home speaker realm, and both have security camera and doorbell offerings to suit. Google’s Nest thermostats have not yet been answered by Amazon, but we think that is simply a matter of time. Our view is that a Google TV would be swiftly countered by an actual Amazon Fire TV.

However, the Google TV brand has been used before, way back in 2010 in a smart TV partnership with Intel, Logitech, and Sony. The abortive project focused around Intel hardware, Sony and Logitech set-tops, and an Android operating system. Eventually, Google had another crack at the television, with Android TV, and it seems that the original Google TV project was sufficiently long ago that consumers are not going to be confused by it.

The second bit of evidence comes from the retooling of the Google Home smartphone app, which acts as a companion to the Google-based smart home. There is now a section that prompts users to add Live TV to their homes, suggesting that there will soon be integrations between the Google Assistant and TV services.

There’s already a Link Netflix option, but it looks like there will be options to control TVs directly too, as there are prompts to play music through the units. Selecting the Link Netflix option then asks the user to link the two accounts, to enable Netflix playback on compatible devices, as well as control Netflix via Google Assistant voice commands.

Sling TV is another integration, but that one dates back to November and looks more like a trial membership generator for Dish Network’s Sling TV, rather than an integration with a smart home platform. Of course, YouTube TV is natively integrated, as expected, but if Netflix can be signed up, then it stands to reason that other SVoD platforms could follow suit.

Of course, there are a number of CSPs that have their own smart home ambitions, which are very unlikely to integrate their TV platforms with Google Home. Many of those are going to be opposed to Amazon’s platform too, given that Prime Video is a direct rival, but given the current duopoly in the smart home, CSPs with their own over-the-top video services are going to have to find some way to play nice with these platforms – because at some point, not being able to plug an SVoD service into their smart home becomes a purchasing decision for the consumer. We are headed that way, albeit rather slowly.

The third and final Google tidbit again comes from 9to5Google, which cites a “reliable source familiar with the company’s plans”, who claims that Google is getting ready to launch the second generation of its Chromecast Ultra dongle, which is based on Android TV and will feature a dedicated remote control.

Having a clicker would be quite a departure for Chromecast, as the genesis behind the device was that the smartphone was meant to be the control – casting video from your phone to the TV. Eventually, this expanded to any device with a Chrome browser, as well as a few other weird departures into other Google hardware, but the dongle was the constant – the only thing needed to turn a dumb TV into something resembling a smart one.

Adding a remote control would graduate the Chromecast to the ‘net-top’ realm – having a dedicated user interface, based on Android TV, as a way to permanently convert that dumb TV into an Android TV unit. The rumored 4K HDR support, connected via WiFi and Bluetooth, means this sounds like a pretty capable device, and the remote control itself will house the microphone that lets you interact with Google Assistant.

There’s no hint on pricing yet, but given the timeline, this was likely due to have launched at Google I/O. On stage, Google would have been able to show off the features of the first native Android TV Chromecast, but as it stands, without a marketing push, consumers are likely going to miss the significance of this step.