Google Debuts Smart TVs, Watches and Cars -- Oh My

Android TV Streams Live TV and Web Video, Supports Gaming

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A screen from Google's Android TV system.
A screen from Google's Android TV system.

Google is once again trying to tackle TV. Maybe the third time is the charm.

On Wednesday the search giant announced Android TV, a version of its Android operating system designed to power smart TVs. Android TV is Google's third connected-TV service and rolls up its predecessors' features, like pulling in live TV feeds and streaming videos from someone's smartphone, with new features like gaming support.

Android TV will be built into TVs to be released this year from Sony and Sharp as well as set-top boxes from Asus, according to Google, which made the announcements as part of its annual developer conference, Google I/O, in San Francisco.

It wasn't clear what kind of place, if any, Google envisions for ads on Android TV homescreens or elsewhere in the connected ecosystems it described on Wednesday.

Android TV will compete against a plethora of other connected TV services, including Google's own Chromecast. That $35 dongle introduced last year plugs into any high-def TV and can stream content including videos and music from someone's phone, tablet or computer. But Android TV's main competition will be Apple's Apple TV and Amazon's Fire TV, as well as Microsoft's Xbox, which also wants to be a living-room hub.

To help Android TV compete, Google is weaving in features that go beyond simply staring at something on a big TV. People can conduct searches on an Android TV-powered screen to find movies or TV shows, watch them and receive information like cast members' filmographies or lists of Oscar-nominated films in a given year.

People can also play video games on their TVs and play against someone using an Android tablet. Amazon beat Google to the punch a bit by including gaming support in its Fire TV set top box, which was introduced in April (and is powered by Google's Android operating system). Microsoft's Xbox conversely started out as a gaming console but have broadened into an all-in-one living room entertainment system.

Samsung's new Gear Live smart watch using Android Wear.
Samsung's new Gear Live smart watch using Android Wear.

Beyond TV
TV isn't the only hardware that Google wants to connected through Android. Through a new version of Android called Android Wear designed for wearables like smart watches, Android-powered smart watches can be connected to a person's Android phone and can serve as a kind of remote control when the phone is in someone's pocket, Google said.

For example, phone notifications such as incoming phone calls will pop up on the watch and let someone decline the call or send a text message that they can't talk right now. Android Wear also enables certain phone-to-watch connections -- like receiving a notification on a smart watch when nearing a restaurant that a friend pinned on Pinterest. A person could swipe that notification to pull up Google Maps on their watch and show turn-by-turn directions.

Samsung and LG are releasing smart watches on Wednesday that will be powered by Android Wear, and Motorola will be introducing one later this summer.

Four wheels
Cars are also getting the smartphone treatment through Android Auto, a program to connect Android phones to cars. Through voice-guided navigation, people can pull up driving directions, control the music or send text messages. They can also do searches, asking what time a museum closes at and then receiving directions to get there. Apps including Pandora, Spotify, iHeartRadio and MLB At Bat have already created versions that will work for in-car usage. And 25 auto brands have signed up to ship cars featuring Android Auto, with the first models to roll out later this year.

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