Android developers can start writing Google TV apps

Google has released a preview version of a programming tool to help them write apps for the company's Net-enabled TV technology.

Sony's Google TV prototypes shown in 2010.
Stephen Shankland/CNET

Google released a preview version of an Android programming tool plug-in today to let developers write software for Google TV devices.

"With the upcoming OS update to Honeycomb, Google TV devices will be Android compatible," said Ambarish Kenghe, a Google TV product manager, in a blog post today. "That means developers can build great new Android apps for TV, optimize existing mobile or tablet apps for TV, and distribute those apps through Android Market."

Silicon Valley companies such as Google, Yahoo, Intel, and Apple have tried for years to marry the TV to the Internet, providing a more interactive experience and a chance to tap into a major new revenue sources such as advertising. But it's been tough: customers often prefer a more passive experience, companies that create and distribute content have often been reluctant partners at best, and Google TV hasn't caught on so far.

Apps are all the rage these days, though, and perhaps they'll succeed where other attempts have failed. A big screen can be a nice place to play games, for example.

Android, of course, has a large and growing collection of apps available through the Android Market. It remains to be seen how easy it will be for programmers to create apps that work on phones, tablets, and TVs, though. Adapting mobile-phone apps for tablets doesn't seem to be a top priority for Android coders today, and tablets--with touch screens and virtual keyboards--are a lot closer to mobile phones than TVs that aren't mobile, often lack a touch screen and keyboard, and have even bigger screens.

Kenghe said the plug-in for the Android SDK (software development kit) will help ease the transition for programmers:

Depending on the design and use case, an existing Android app may work well on Google TV as is, or it may require fixes. With the add-on you can test your apps to determine if they would be a good fit for TV and whether any tweaks are required. We are also publishing UI guidelines to help you with topics like optimizing for D-pad navigation, presenting information for 10-foot viewing, designing apps that work well across devices, etc. The guidelines include information on how certain UI [user interface] elements on Google TV differ from other Android devices.

Kenghe isn't setting expectations high for an explosion of TV apps, though, predicting only that "the number of apps available on TV will initially be small." That seems a safe bet, considering the hard times Google TV has undergone so far.

The company often is willing to plug away at products through rough patches--the first Android phones being one example. And if Google closes its Motorola acquisition successfully, it could have a much more effective and direct way to spur Google TV product adoption.

There's no word on when the SDK plug-in will be released in final form or when Google TV products will be endowed with Honeycomb, the tablet-specific version 3 of Android.