It looks like Google is finally selling an Android TV dongle to the masses. XDA Developers has released promotional images of a device codenamed “Sabrina”. The device looks like a slightly larger Chromecast with remote control and runs on Android TV.
The device is very similar to an Amazon Fire Stick or Roku Stick – it is a tiny HDMI stick that offers you all the advantages of a set-top box in a wall-mounting-friendly form factor. The remote offers basic navigation, volume control and voice commands through the Google Assistant.
9to5Google first reported the existence of “Sabrina” and said it was “a second generation Chromecast Ultra” that comes with a remote control and runs Android TV. The Chromecast “Ultra” is the version of a Chromecast with 4K compatibility and currently costs $ 69. A report from the log says Sabrina will cost “around or under $ 80”.
Google will likely have to cut this price to be competitive with the rest of the streaming landscape. Amazon’s 4K Fire Stick (which also runs Android and comes with a remote control) costs $ 50. Roku, the industry leader, has a remote control 4K dongle for $ 40. Google might say a big differentiator is that thanks to Google Stadia’s support, a handful of $ 60 AAA video games run on Sabrina, but Stadia is not doing well.
The leak also shows some screenshots of the software, which is very different from the current version of Android TV. In this new build, content from multiple apps will be merged, destroying the walled garden that is usually around every service. Screenshots (and a video) of the new user interface of the start screen show a full screen preview from which you can jump game of Thrones on HBO Max, too Our planet to Netflix too Black widow on Disney Plus.
A “live” section of the user interface was heavily integrated into YouTube TV, including a user interface for TV instructions. The new Android TV also supports Nest cameras and has a full-screen user interface for Google Assistant results.
Is this the beginning of the end for Chromecast?
It looks like we’re starting a phase of renewed interest in Google’s Android TV. The company’s last Android TV was the first Android TV, the Nexus Player, which was released back in 2014. Since it was cut off from updates in 2018, no first-party hardware was supported for Android TV. Google has released three “ADT” devices for developers, including a dongle form factor. However, they lacked DRM compatibility to play Netflix and other major media apps.
Google’s lack of interest in Android TV hardware appears to be due to the success of Chromecast, a competing $ 35 dongle from Google that didn’t have its own user interface or control system at all. At the time of Chromecast’s release in 2013, it was designed to be as affordable as possible so that users could easily watch YouTube, Google Music and other services on their TV. Already in 2013, the lack of a separate user interface and remote control for Chromecast was part of this “as cheap as possible” philosophy, hence the separation between Android TV and Chromecast. Chromecast was cheap and $ 35; Android TV was more of a premium experience that started at $ 100.
Today, however, the falling price of technology means that such a split is not really necessary. As mentioned earlier, Amazon’s Fire TV stick, which also runs dongle form factor Android and comes with a remote control, costs $ 35 for the HD version and $ 50 for the 4K version . Google basically builds the same product. When Google creates an HD version of Sabrina and publishes it at a competitive price, there’s really no room for a standalone Chromecast device. At $ 35, there would certainly be no more space – would Google want to sell a Chromecast for less? If not – and if Google makes any sense at all (a controversial topic) – we may be looking for the Chromecast line at the beginning of the end.
In terms of software, Android TV and Chromecast have already been merged. Every Android TV is also a Chromecast receiver – the casting experience is indistinguishable from that of a Chromecast if you don’t want to pick up a remote. That means Chromecast doesn’t offer a “user-friendly” advantage over Android TV. Android TV is just an upgrade, and the price is the only justification for Chromecast. However, Amazon has proven that price differences are no longer necessary.
At the moment, rumors only point to a 4K version that doesn’t attack Chromecast’s price of $ 35. The rumors also suggest that Google has a higher price than all of its competitors, possibly as artificial protection for the Chromecast. The Chromecast has been very popular in the past, but as the protocol highlights in its report, the Chromecast is losing market share to its more capable rivals. The Chromecast was a great entry-level device when Internet TV was an addition to the cable. However, since cable cutting is becoming the norm, people want a more powerful device at a low price. The other problem is that every single TV now has intelligent functionality, so Google is also competing with integrated systems.
Welcome back to Google TV?
Now would be a good time to merge, as rumors suggest Android TV will be renamed. 9to5Google says Android TV will be renamed “Google TV”.
The name “Google TV” was used by Google as the company’s original TV product back in 2010, but it appears to be coming back now. In the early days of smart TVs, Google TVs were real clunkers that had full QWERTY keyboards, were based on Android 2.x, and had the Chrome and Adobe Flash headings needed to view web videos at were the time. By 2014, Google understandably scrapped the Google TV code base and started over with Android TV.
Reviving the Google TV name would be somewhat in line with Google’s previous rebranding efforts. We saw the company pull the Android brand away from everything that isn’t a phone. The Android Market became Google Play, “Android Pay” became “Google Pay”, “Android Wear” became “Wear OS” and “Android Messages” became “Messages by Google”. Google’s branding isn’t always useful, but it seems to limit the “Android” brand to a phone operating system, and everything that works on the web or works with an iPhone is renamed “Google”. The Android brand was updated with a new logo in 2019, so it doesn’t look like it’s going anywhere. It just seems to be relegated to “Google’s phone operating system”.
Regarding the hardware, according to the protocol, the device will use the “Nest” brand. It’s probably called something like “Google Nest TV,” which runs the Google TV software. The report also says that Google is aiming for a summer version, but warns that COVID-19 issues could delay things.
Listing image from XDA developers