Until recently, most Android-based TV products have used the Google TV platform. But lately we've seen an explosion of low-cost media players designed to access the web and run Android apps on TV with plain old Android.
Few of these products compete directly with Google TV, but rather fill in the low end of the market. Typically, the new players are sub-$100 devices from low-profile Shenzen manufacturers aimed at emerging markets, although several dozen are also available for retail sale in the U.S. Most of these vendors -- and their customers -- are unable or unlikely to invest in Google TV, which has been sold primarily by high-end TV vendors.
Now that Vizio has paved the way for more affordable Google TV set-top boxes (STBs) with its $99 Vizio CoStar, a broader selection of consumer electronics vendors are considering Google TV. Yet, as Google TV continues to struggle, they are more inclined to try their own Android TV products, thereby avoiding Google's licensing terms.
Unless Google TV takes off, the move to Android makes sense. After all, vendors can't very well license their own Apple TV or Microsoft Xbox products. Embedded Linux is certainly a valid option, as proven by popular IPTV devices like the Roku boxes, but consumers increasingly want to run all their familiar Android apps on the big screen, and use their Android mobile devices in concert with TV players.
Pure Android TV
In 2013, the choice of a pure Android TV device should become easier thanks to the currently beta-stage, open source XBMC for Android. Already several Android set-tops are expected to run this mature home-theater alternative to Google TV, including the open source Ouya gaming device. If Google TV doesn't turn the corner soon, we can expect to see more established vendors create a new mid-range market of $100-$150 Android STBs running XBMC.
Android is something of a longshot in converged TV, but the market is still in its adolescence. The Android contenders join a host of technology firms interested in exploiting the Internet video craze, including Microsoft’s Xbox, Apple TV, and TV vendors selling predominantly Linux-based "Smart TVs."
According to a recent Forrester survey, some 32 million U.S. households watch online video on a TV set, up from 25 million in 2011. Most of these appear to be using a Smart TV or a game console like the Xbox 360. An Oct. 17 report from DisplaySearch projects that Smart TVs will grow to 15 percent of global TV shipments in 2012.
Android TV options can be broken down into the following categories, including options based on the Google TV platform: low-end, sub-$100 media players; HDMI sticks; high-end, Google TV-based devices; cable-ready Over-The-Top STBs; and smartphones and tablets. Next week we’ll explore each category in depth and assess their roles in the TV ecosystem and potential for success.