Developing apps for Android TV: features and capabilities

Smart TV is the marketing name for a technology like 4K UHD. The name implies that these TVs can be connected to the Internet and apps can be installed on them. This includes TVs with Android-based operating systems.

Regarding hardware (processor, RAM, etc.), Smart TVs resemble rather slow smartphones. They have little RAM and built-in memory, which are not the best processing tools. Their peculiarity is that everything is geared to playing video, so the TVs can hardly cope with large pictures, animation, and modern interfaces.

Part of the audience is disappointed when apps slow down or do not start because of poor performance. The technological giants do not see the sense in putting more advanced “stuffing” into TVs: the market for games is not developed there, and users tend to buy consoles (Apple TV, PlayStation, etc.).

Developing the app development market is slowed down by the main TV audience, which is quite old and cautious about everything new. Recent studies show that the adult audience is moving to tablets. On the one hand, they stop using TV, but on the other hand, they actively participate in the apps and transfer this experience.

App development: subtleties and limitations

Everything starts with the definition of business requirements: what we are going to show and with what minimal set of functions we can start with. Then designers and developers start working simultaneously. Their interaction is critical, even at a stage when nothing has been done yet-otherwise we will draw interfaces that cannot be implemented.

Android TV app development happens completely from scratch because other devices, smartphones in particular, have a different architecture. There is no need to communicate with the technical support of the TV manufacturers themselves: we just need to register on the website for Android developers — fill in the required fields and confirm with the documentation who we are. Then we get access to the documentation, which describes the technical requirements, video playback methods, or codes for the buttons. All of this is publicly available.

Nuances of app development

The main nuance of app development is the different user behaviors. The apps for TV are more akin to WAP websites from the early days of mobile Internet. Navigation on TVs is done with down-right-back buttons.

Forcing a developer to do app development after the mobile platform is impossible because of different broadcasting mechanisms, code architecture, and control. You can’t say that TV apps are a starting point for developers: it’s a very peculiar environment. There’s a backend there, too, as well as complex code, scripts, and interactions with consoles.


The remote control is the dominant input device on TVs. It’s extremely rare to find users hooking up a keyboard and mouse. All users now have either an air mouse (remotes that pick up hand movements in the air) or standard remotes with four-button arrows or a joystick. These are used to enter queries, phone numbers, or other not very bulky texts on the on-screen keyboard.


With the design, it is easier: performers can move between commands. But you have to draw almost from scratch: you can inherit the color of the buttons, but it’s harder to copy and paste “someone else’s” element. And my task is to make sure that the products are not scattered from each other in function and appearance. A common design system helps with this: a set of rules and tools for graphic design.

The advantages of a big screen for design are almost nonexistent: TVs tend to have the same resolutions as computer displays—just a bigger pixel. You should not expect that a large screen will allow you to fit a lot of elements and information on it. And you have to keep in mind that the user is watching the TV from three meters away from the screen, so all the information must be readable.

What awaits Android TVs next?

The model of consumption of television content has not yet evolved much and is unlikely to change in the future. Everyone watches TV either before going to bed or in the background. Some users do not turn off the TV for weeks. It won’t become something big, and it won’t get exotic offshoots.

On the other hand, the Android TV segment will become more interesting: people are annoyed by pirated content searches and walking back and forth with a flash card, especially if the file won’t run in the end. Now it’s much easier to just buy a movie or series directly from the app on your TV.

The main changes in Android TV will be to picture quality. 8K TVs will become popular. Matrix and backlighting technologies will be improved. We cannot say that these are drastic changes, but color rendering and detailing will improve. The latest marketing features include the development of flexible screens and using the TV as a wall painting.

The hardware in televisions will move rhythmically forward–you’ll need a more powerful processor and more RAM for high picture quality. These are good prospects for app development.

It is quite possible that televisions will become an organic part of smart homes, but they will not begin to play a central role. It is logical that speakers have taken over this role in audio systems; everything revolves around sound quality, which is why voice assistants were born there. On TV, the picture is paramount, but voice commands are there, too—we are already seeing microphones in the new consoles.

But cameras on TVs were already there-it’s a bygone era. Five years ago, LG televisions could switch channels with a wave of the hand. In fact, TV sets with cameras could see that there was nobody in front of them, so they turned off, and viewers used cameras to talk on Skype.

The pitfalls of app development

Let’s discuss some of the pitfalls of app development. You might get the impression that all you need to do is write code once and use it on all platforms. But in fact, all platforms have some differences that you have to consider. Some of these features include the following:

  • handling remote control button presses. Not all manufacturers use the same keycodes for the same remote control buttons.
  • video player
  • device Information

The focus of the TV app is primarily focused on the remote control, and therefore the UI/UX should be implemented considering using navigation buttons: up, down, right, left, OK, and back, while it is important not to lose focus and clearly indicate where it is now.



To publish an app, you need to go through moderation. There are rules and peculiarities. In this case, you need to be patient because apps can take more than one week to be moderated, and this should be considered when planning deadlines. The app should be published well in advance of its release.

If you are suddenly worried that the app will appear before any marketing activities, do not worry. When sending for moderation, there is a point where you can specify the date before which the app will not be published.

You also need to be prepared for the fact that the reason for refusal may be any little thing, such as a wrong answer in the self-checklist (a list of questions to be answered by the developer before submitting an app, for example: “Does your app contain viruses?”, etc.) or due to a misunderstanding in the UX description of the app.

Conclusions: App development

App development for TV is gaining in popularity. One trend is that they are gradually becoming more and more in demand, like mobile apps or computer programs. At the same time, it is still a relatively vacant niche. And in the case of smart apps, “free” also means “profitable.” App customers, depending on their goals and objectives, can get the following opportunities:

  • The chance to obtain a powerful marketing tool for promoting their goods and services;
  • The ability to earn money by placing advertisements in their apps;
  • The opportunity to generate revenue by providing paid content—for example, by showing movies.

Regardless of how you want to make money with Android TV apps, there are many interesting opportunities everywhere.