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Developing for Android TV — keeping focused

The past couple of months we at Egeniq had been working on the brand new Android TV app for Pathé Thuis, a video-on-demand service in the Netherlands, and now that it is finally available on Google Play, I wanted to talk about development for Android TV — what I think about it, things I liked and things I didn’t.

In my opinion, the best thing about Android TV is that it is the same Android we love on our phones and tablets, with just one big restriction — there’s no touchscreen.

This means that a lot of code can be shared if you have a regular mobile app next to your TV app, just make sure the user can navigate on the screen with the remote or controller.

With this restriction comes the worst part too: in order to make the UI navigatable, you have to keep track of user focus — which button, field, tab, etc. the user has currently selected at any time.

This can be easy in a layout with 2 buttons, but it can be quite a task when you have auto-hiding tabs on the top, a hidden drawer on the left, multiple rows and columns of different type of items in the center.

You have to keep track of what should be focusable and what should not, make sure the direction of navigation is logical, and maybe even change the visibility of elements based on where the user is. So to sum it all up, there’s a lot that can go wrong.

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