At this year’s Google I/O conference, Google announced Android TV, the successor to their ill-fated Google TV, and positioned similarly to Amazon’s Kindle Fire TV, including the ability to play games.
However, unlike the Kindle Fire TV, production sample units given to developers at the conference indicate that the Android TV will ship with a controller in the box.
This seems to be part of a broader trend for set-top boxes. Games aren’t a niche product anymore, so anything and everything coming down the pike is expected to be able to play them, from Roku’s Wiimote-like controller all the way up to the Xbox One, which was originally pitched as an integrated media device as much as a game console.
Google’s Android TV Controller certainly isn’t taking any major risks. The above render, included in the build of Android L released to developers at Google IO, shows a fairly traditional layout: four face buttons, D-pad, two analog sticks, shoulder buttons, triggers, and three “utility” buttons above four player indicator lights. No word on whether the sticks will be clickable.
The “utility” buttons are somewhat surprising, considering they still use the back-arrow iconography that Google proudly announced they were dropping from Android in the Android L release in favor of the geometric shapes that make up part of its Material Design icon package. Still, the back-arrow button is in the same place as the Xbox 360’s “back” button, so while it’s a surprise in the context of Google’s graphic design choices it’s no surprise at all in the context of controller design.
In fact, it seems like surprises in controller design are growing desperately rare outside of Nintendo. Who would have thought, back in 2004, that Microsoft would end up releasing the most influential controller design since the SNES? Even Sony’s been forced to update their controller’s ergonomics from its 1994 roots in the PS4, and it seems like each new Android microconsole comes with a controller you could mistake for a third-party Xbox controller. Still, it’s a good sign going forward, if the form of a controller becomes as familiar and comforting as the form of a remote control. And hopefully Nintendo will keep being experimental and weird, too, even if they have a bog-standard Pro Controller too.