If you own an Android TV box or a television with it built in, there's a pretty good chance you've also taken the time to install Google's remote control app to go with it. It's not that the app is necessary, but it's a great backup in case your main remote is lost or the batteries die. All things considered, it's a pretty basic utility app; but it might not be quite so simple in the near future. A teardown shows that this little remote control is about to turn your phone into a full-fledged gamepad. There are also signs that it may soon take care of shutting off your TV for you and we might also gain control over the volume of voice responses.
Note: The updated apk that spawned this teardown was released early this month. I got to it a bit late, but thought it was still worth posting since none of the features have been released yet.
What are you supposed to do when a couple of friends surprise you at your place to play some video games and you're short a couple of controllers? If you have one of the traditional gaming consoles, you'll probably have to make an emergency run to a store and drop $50 each to buy extra controllers you'll probably never use again. If you've got Android TV, you might be able to solve this with just a regular phone.
New strings reveal that a gamepad mode is coming soon. It will join the current D-Pad and Touchpad modes that currently appear in the navigation drawer while connected to an Android TV.
<string name="action_dpad">DPAD DirectionCenter x 10</string>
The strings don't really tell us much beyond the fact that the gamepad is coming, it will have a spot in the nav drawer, and that there will be a "joystick" for controlling direction. If I were told a gamepad was coming to this app, I would have expected each of these things.
The most telling clues are actually visible from a couple lines in the application manifest. The Remote Control app now calls for ACCESS_COARSE_LOCATION, which means it can now find your general location on a map. The typical reason for this is to simplify pairing of the guest phone with an Android TV unit.
<uses-feature android:name="android.hardware.sensor.accelerometer" android:required="true"/>
The other interesting line is this uses-feature tag, which shows the intent for the app to pull data directly from the accelerometer in most phones. This is commonly used for things like tilt-steering in racing games.
Who are we kidding, any gamer already knows what's up, so I won't explain this stuff any further. The point is, you'll soon have the option to use a phone as a gamepad with Android TV. It should work just like using a normal gamepad, but with the obvious disadvantage of having no physical buttons.
These are the icons for each of the modes: D-Pad, Trackpad, and Gamepad.
Auto-Sleep For TVs
About this time last year, Google pushed an update to Chromecast that allowed it to be responsive to commands from a TV remote. The notable requirement was that the TV had to support HDMI-CEC, a wire protocol that made it possible for TVs, receivers, and various set-top boxes to trade status updates and issue commands to each other. This is already used in a lot of scenarios like turning on a TV and switching the source if you start a Cast session. Now there is a clue that the remote app will be offering another handy feature: putting your TV to sleep.
<string name="tv_sleep_section">Set TV to sleep</string>
It's just the one string, so there's not a lot to explore, but it's fairly clear that this will be a button users can press to shut off their displays without reaching for a second remote. Again, this will only work if HDMI-CEC is supported across both the Android TV set-top box and the connected display, but that's pretty common with most recently released hardware.
Volume Control For Voice Responses
If you've ever spoken a question to Android TV, you might have thought the voice that comes back in response is a bit too loud, or maybe too quiet. Sure, we could change the volume on our TVs and speakers, but then we're constantly adjusting back and forth for all of the sound coming through. If you feel like voice responses aren't leveled out well with the rest of your programming, this one is for you. Google is preparing a simple setting to modify the "Voice Sound Level."
<string name="action_voice_sound_level">Voice Sound Level</string>
<string name="action_start_voice">Start Voice</string>
<string name="action_stop_voice">Stop Voice</string>
This is going to be a basic setting, but the one added note from the strings is that we can count on the existence of a demo button that allows users to play a sample voice, then adjust from there. It's not clear if this setting is a system-wide thing, meaning that a change in the remote app applies to all voice responses regardless of which remotes ask a question, or if this will only adjust the volume when the response is to a phone or tablet where this setting was applied.
That's it for this teardown. I'm glad to see some things in the works for Android TV, especially with regard to giving us more to do with our phones. I almost never use my phone to interact with my SHIELD, but it certainly has the capacity to do much more interesting things than any of the regular remotes. Maybe we're not too far off from some really unique and compelling features that set Android TV apart from the rest of the pack.