Why the Google TV SDK Lacks an In-app Live TV Widget

I have been following Google TV for a while now, and right after its announcement I was pretty excited, pondering the vast amount of opportunities for creating Android apps that would enrich your TV viewing experience.

That said I was pretty dumbstruck to learn that a PIP (picture-in-picture) component, i.e. an Android view displaying the live TV stream to be embedded in your applications, does not exist (or more precisely: is not available for you to use.) In other words, the most obvious and powerful use case for an Android based TV platform, namely building Android applications around a live TV signal, is not possible to realize. Quoting from the documentation [1]:

Note: The picture-in-picture (PIP) feature of the Live TV app is not available to other Android applications. Also, you can’t run an Android application in the small PIP window.


As puzzling as Google’s decision to not provide such a component may sound at first, there is actually a very simple explanation for it. After last week’s DevFest event in Berlin, I had a chance to speak to Google’s Matt Gaunt, developer advocate for Google TV in London, about this very issue. Apparently, the lack of a PIP component has purely legal reasons. Think about it: if any Android application would be able to overlay its content over a TV channel, that channel’s content could easily be compromised and the viewer tricked into believing that the overlaid content is actually part of the show. While this would not be an issue with “trusted” services such as, say, a content overlay containing background information for a news show, malicious apps could easily exploit this to misrepresent or otherwise distort the content aired by the TV channel.

Hence, to make this happen, Google would have to ask every single TV channel in the world for permission to allow content being overlaid by third party apps. You can easily see how unlikely this will ever be to happen, since Fox News is probably not interested in apps waving an Obama flag in front of their channel logo, to name one example.

For now, unfortunately, Google TV remains a mere TV-or-apps experience, not both.

[1] https://developers.google.com/tv/android/docs/gtv_android?hl=en#HardwareFeatures