A little over 14 months after delivering its previous such update, Google just announced the release of Android TV 12 without much fanfare — and with good reason: just like last year, the latest version of its operating system for big screens will only be enjoyed by only a handful of people, app developers to be precise, and almost no one else. What is more, the same is still true for its predecessor, Android 11, as well as the predecessor of its predecessor, Android 10 (more on that in a moment). Such is the sad state of affairs regarding this, the most troubled of Google’s operating systems, that every year yours truly wonders whether there’s a point in writing an article about the latest Android TV version — and every year he does because hope dies last. Or so they say.
It’s true: right now, Android TV 12 can only be installed on the Google development kits (ADT-3) the company offers to programmers for testing their apps. That’s all. The vast majority of televisions from every manufacturer using Android TV — Sony, Philips, TCL, Hisense, Xiaomi — is either still stuck on version 9 with very little chance of ever being upgraded, or is now based on Google TV (which is basically Android TV 10 with a revamped interface and a few extra bells and whistles). There’s no middle ground. To speak of fragmentation in the Android TV userbase as it is discussed in the Android smartphone market would be hilarious at this point.
Be that as it may, Android TV 12 does indeed come in two different versions, one for the “old” Android TV and one for the “new” Google TV. It’s just that extremely few TVs based on the latter had their core Android 10 files upgraded to Android TV 11 in the last 12 months, so for all other TVs it makes no sense to be upgraded to Android TV 11 now: manufacturers might just as well skip that version and adopt Android TV 12. So far, though, no TV manufacturer has made its intentions on the matter public. Even Google itself has announced no plans to bring Android TV 12 to its own media player, the latest version of Chromecast.
It’s a shame, really, because Android TV 12 is not an insignificant upgrade. It offers, at long last, a 4K resolution user interface (it was stuck at 1080p for the better part of a decade), it correctly switches the refresh rate of a TV’s screen to match the one used by the content displayed (24/25/30/60 Hz), allowing users to also adjust it manually, it brings HDMI CEC 2.0 support for better control of devices connected to a TV, it even incorporates indicators and toggles for microphone or camera use. Privacy and security are bolstered by new options and features lifted from the main Android framework, too.
This being the fifth or sixth time that a new version of Android TV is totally out of step with the actual products it’s supposed to power, it’s clear that something must be done about all this. Google and TV manufacturers have to come to some form of understanding, define a clear set of hardware requirements for each Android TV version and come up with a way that makes upgrading devices to a newer one easier.
Sadly, most manufacturers seem to feel that they do not have much to gain by supporting their televisions in software once the sale is made. So it falls, once again, on the shoulders of consumers to prove them wrong by only purchasing TVs made by those few manufacturers that offer proper, timely software support. It could certainly take a while, but the rest may get the message… eventually.