Did NVIDIA do the right thing by holding back Oreo for the Shield TV?
Oreo’s “What’s Next” home screen is only missing one thing: developer support.
NVIDIA’s Shield TV is one of those rare things that are still “best in class” years after they were released. It has plenty of competition, but if you want the best multi-purpose set-top TV box you can get, it’s hard not to recommend the Shield TV. It has you covered whether you want to listen to music, watch a movie or show, or grab a controller and game the night away. I chalk that up to two things — the hardware inside it and the software support from NVIDIA. Considering that, as strange as it sounds NVIDIA is doing the right thing by holding back its Oreo update.
Smart TVs need to be able to show you what’s on that you’ll like; that’s where the smart part comes in.
I have a feeling that anyone familiar with the Shield TV who knows how and why this all started is going to agree. And the how and the why this started happen to be the important parts.
A quick refresher here. Back at CES 2018, NVIDIA’s director of Shield management, Chris Daniel, went on record saying that the product was still doing well, the U.S. retail market for it is going to be expanded, NVIDIA has plans to bring it to new countries in 2018, and that while NVIDIA certainly plans to bring Oreo to the Shield TV, there is no time frame and no rush. NVIDIA’s not happy with the interface and is working with Google to change whatever needs changing. That’s a pretty bold statement towards the company who built the actual software, but Daniels is right on and explains it all in one sentence.
If you release a whole new interface, and the apps aren’t supporting it, then we don’t feel like it’s a good launch for us, so we’re working hard on that.
That’s the Oreo interface for Android TV. Android TV is like Android Wear (except it’s good) or Chrome OS (but not that good) when it comes to vendor (that’d be the company who has its name printed on the package) customization. Google learned a valuable lesson with Android, namely that other companies will twist everything and anything until it no longer resembles the original, then fill the storage with crap apps and duplicates and whatever garbage the highest bidder wants them to put in there. While that helps companies sell $150 Android phones they never need to update, it also means the user interface is whatever that same company wants it to be.
Companies like NVIDIA can;t just change the user interface on an Android TV box.
The new “home screen” interface for Android TV, called the What’s Next interface by those that love it and built it, is pretty smart. Unlike your phone and the hundreds of apps installed that you can use for anything at any time, there are a few things most people do with Android on a television. Entertainment is the focus and using Google’s (sometimes) smart AI to expose a show or movie or anything you’ll want to see next is genius. Until it’s not.
Notice the screenshot above and you’ll see a pattern — it’s all Netflix. That’s great for Netflix, but what about HBO or NBC or Amazon (especially Amazon because the Shield TV has an exclusive and awesome Amazon streaming video app)? You could think it’s because there isn’t anything worth watching on any of those “networks” and maybe you’re right, but the reason is that their Android TV apps haven’t been updated to tie into the new interface. Even if your all-time favorite movie just finished and the 5-star-rated sequel (did anyone ever make a Strange Brew 2, eh?) is ready to stream from Amazon, you won’t see it listed as a recommendation because it can’t hook inside the screen you’re looking at. That’s just a bad user experience all around.
NVIDIA can’t change up the landing screen for Oreo so they are doing the best alternative in their eyes — not updating. And don’t think this is a cop-out. NVIDIA loves updating the Shield TV as much as you love getting the updates, which is why you see one almost every month. NVIDIA is doing this because they don’t want to wreck the UI on their TV box and make you hate it.
This can be fixed with the right people doing the fixing. And they are.
The good news is that they are working with Google to find a solution. Neither company can force developers to update their apps to support the Oreo interface, but they can get a bunch of smart people in the same room and figure something out. Chances are whatever the two companies come up with will be good for everyone — Google, NVIDIA, developers, and us. In the meantime, you can still use your Shield TV without working your way through individual app program guides or missing out on something you’ll wish you hadn’t.
And when nothing good is on, there’s always Borderlands 2.
NVIDIA Shield Android TV
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- Complete Shield Android TV specs