An evening with Google TV [API, App Development]

Setup was easy with the existing Eclipse environment for Android. From within Eclipse itself we updated to have the development APIs for Google TV. Then we created an emulator for the larger screen size of the TV and we were able to run a sample Android app.

Attending a recent hackathon sponsored by Google, Sony, and Zenika, I walked off at the end of the event with a Logitech set top box for Google TV. After an entire night of brainstorming, programming, testing, and barely keeping awake during the wee hours, I’ve rested enough and am conscious enough to give you some opinions of Google TV, the technologies involved, and what I think should be your investment in it.googletv

For development teams, Google TV is a breeze. If you have noted recent tech talks by Google, this technology doesn’t feature in prime time. That is because, and that is also to your advantage, it does not require anything very different or special than if you were already programming for Android or the web. Since it supports both Android, Google’s mobile platform, and also web technologies, if your current applications employ either of those technologies then with some amount of modifications, you could be up and running on Google TV also. Obviously, you will not find support for technologies that are quite irrelevant for TV – like GPS, compass, gyroscope, accelerometer, etc. Though Android for the TV has so far lagged behind that for mobile, even current releases, however, have all the necessary technologies to build relevant apps for TV.

Apps relevant for TV are going to face some fundamental differences of usage from the mobile and web. Most of them have to do with the distance of the user from the device and the low-resolution, large screen specifications – text cannot be too small or too much, elements on the screen have to be large to ease selection and choice. Some of the others are just about our existing approach to TV – usually a lazy, laid back disposition. The apps that my team and other teams designed and implemented took these into consideration, and it appeared to me very interesting. I personally like simplicity in applications – useful, functional, regularly used features over complexity. Apps for Google TV, if designed well, by their very nature demands this – selection cannot be fine and delicate as input devices are more coarse than a mouse on your desktop or touch on a smartphone.

We had under 12 hours to finish the application. Our team, consisting of Sam, a French-Algerian who suggested the idea, Yakhya from Senegal, and me from India, chose to do a simple mashup between TV and Twitter using Android for the TV. The application would occupy three sections on the screen. Allow the user to select from a list of channels on the left, show the appropriate tv channel in the main part when a selection is made, and below it have a twitter feed that has recent tweets with related hashtags or keywords. The initial hope was to overlay the feeds on the video itself, but that feature is not allowed as of now, though I think that is not because it is technically impossible but probably because it is restricted.

Setup was easy with the existing Eclipse environment for Android. From within Eclipse itself we updated to have the development APIs for Google TV. Then we created an emulator for the larger screen size of the TV and we were able to run a sample Android app. We were also using a Logitech device and keyboard that had the Google TV platform in it for both testing and demo on the projector. The setup again was straightforward – the TV box connects to the local WiFi and since our computers were connected to it too, we fed the output from our computers directly over WiFi to the TV. It worked without a hitch.

The demo by individual teams at the end of the event showcased a few different applications. Two teams had done web games. Both of them allowed users to login from their mobile device connected to the same site as the TV and play a multiplayer game. Another had created a visual flow of images and text that would eventually combine information from social networks. Others had worked on technical hacks, but which is now difficult to explain in a short article, but which also wouldn’t have been a consumer facing application.

The event was an overall success even though I started off with the suspicion that twelve hours was too little to create anything useful on an entirely new device type. None of the participants had previously worked on or at least done anything significant on Google TV. Keeping that in mind and the high quality of the demos, it ought to give one an indication that the hurdles to be productive on the platform are low and very few. If you have existing experience, yourself or within your company, developing applications for the mobile or web, then the barriers to entry are very low. The question then would be the potential upside.

Google TV, the tech behemoth’s offer to bring the world in front of your sofa and predicted by ex-CEO Eric Schmidt as going to be on a majority of TVs available by the middle of 2012, has not quite panned out as fast as prophesied. On the other hand, it is not struggling for breath either. If you were to draw up a risk-benefit analysis, the known factor is that the potential investment required is very low. The potential upside, is clearly unpredictable, but my guess is that it is either medium or high. If you are a small company or a big company with a mindset to explore and be at the edge of technology offerings, you should give Google TV a try. Don’t yet entirely, forgive the pun, switch to that channel in lieu of all other business possibilities, but if you are in the mobile and web business, Google TV should definitely remain on your agenda.

And here’s something for your goody bag as you leave – a short video from Google I/O 2012 with some app demonstrations:

[The author is an independent technology enthusiast with a keen interest in everything technology. He is currently rediscovering the web, mobile, newer programming languages, and businesses around it. You can discover more about him at]

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