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Every year, a new version of Android arrives, and with it, usually a bunch of new features and behind-the-scenes changes. This year, with the launch of the first Android 12 Developer Preview, we also saw the first time the release was accompanied by previews for Android TV and Google TV. That’s cause for excitement in itself, but the updates themselves don’t really have that much to offer.

Android updates don’t usually bring new TV features

I’ve been playing around with Android TV 12, specifically the Google TV flavor, for the past day. From setup to settings, I honestly can’t find anything notable to tell you about, and that’s been par for the course on Android TV since its inception.

The last time an Android update delivered major feature and UI revisions on Android TV was Oreo, when Google completely revamped the experience. Since then, not much has changed. The next release, Android 9 Pie, was one of the bigger updates, but it still didn’t do anything major. Google made some performance optimizations, added support for autofill (which has never been widely used), and added a new setup method that offloaded a lot of the work to a nearby smartphone. The streamlined Settings menu was the biggest user-facing change.

Android TV 10 brought Project Treble along with it, as well as making some more performance optimizations. User-facing, though, this update didn’t do anything. The same applied to Android TV 11, which has seen virtually no adoption. The only notable changes for that update include low-latency support, better gamepad support, and some improved TV functions.

The simple fact is that most of the new features Google gives its TV platforms don’t come from Android updates, they come from launcher updates, apps, and other methods. That’s a smart strategy, too, as many of the changes that users actually care about can be rolled out without worrying too much about OEM partners.

Most of what’s new is behind the scenes

If you haven’t sensed a pattern at this point, most changes you’ll find in Android TV platform upgrades are done outside of the user’s view. Some people may run into the tweaks, but for the most part they’ll be invisible. Google described what’s new, at least in the first Android TV 12 preview, as such:

And, for the biggest screen in the home, the first Android 12 preview for Android TV is also available. In addition to bringing the latest Android features to the TV with this preview, you will also be able to test your apps on the all-new Google TV experience. Learn more on the Android TV Developers site and get started with your ADT-3 developer kit.

That’s… not helpful.

Based on the timing alone, it’s pretty clear that Android TV 12 will see wider adoption, and as such that means this update will probably be the first time Scoped Storage takes any effect on Android TV/Google TV. For the average user, this won’t ever matter, but those who want to sideload apps may run into issues, though we can’t say we’ve encountered any to date. We also speculated that some of the tweaks in Android 12 such as HEVC transcoding, AVIF, multi-channel audio, and more might be felt on TVs running the platform.

As far as Google TV based on Android 12 goes, there was literally only one user-facing feature I could find. On the “For You” tab, the homescreen now shows a “Recommended Videos” list that’s powered by YouTube, complete with the logo. That’s really nothing to get excited about, because Google could roll that out to the new Chromecast with an app update. Honestly, they probably have already and we’re just seeing it for the first time here by coincidence.

More timely updates are the real reason for hype

Does this mean there’s no reason for Android TV and Google TV users to get excited about Android 12? Absolutely not! The truth is that major Android updates have never been a big deal for Android TV. The platform is usually one full release behind and has literally skipped entire versions of the operating system more than one time.

Having an Android 12 update this early for TVs is a leap forward, and it’s also pretty telling that the preview build we ran on an ADT-3 was packing the February 2021 security patch, too. I don’t want to build up expectations, but it really seems like updates are finally going to be a priority for Google with this renewed platform interest and I’ve got to say, I’m so here for it.

When will Android TV 12 roll out?

It seems reasonable to assume that Android TV 12 will start rolling out stable builds around the same time as phones, which is scheduled for roughly August or September at this point. Of course, that might not mean that consumer devices such as the new Chromecast, TCL TVs, and others get the update quickly, but we sure hope that’s the case.

We’ll continue to install new preview builds of Android TV and Google TV as they’re made available, so stay tuned as we report on any important changes we find.

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Ben Schoon

Ben is a writer and video producer for 9to5Google.

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