Google is building TV remote control functionality into Android phones

Mike Wheatley

Google has revealed it’s making a built-in application that will enable Android smartphones and tablets to be used as a remote control for any Android TV.


The upcoming remote capability was revealed at Google’s I/O developer conference this week. The company said it aims to make it “easier” for people to navigate through their Android TV through “built-in remote control features” in Android smartphones.

No doubt, the new app will be welcomed by those among us who make a habit of losing the remote control down the back of the sofa. But that’s not all it will be useful for, because most remote controls are fairly abject when it comes to entering text to search for long-winded movie titles in Netflix, for example. And neither are they great at punching in Wi-Fi passwords for that matter. The fact that Android smartphones have a keypad will undoubtedly make such tasks a whole lot easier.

iPhone users have had the same feature built into iOS for more than a year now, of course, so we should note that Google is definitely playing catch up here.

The new built-in remote in Android smartphones appears to be a replacement for the ageing, and somewhat obscure Android TV Remote Control app, which doesn’t ever seem to have gained much traction.

The new app will appear later this year and could end up being used by as many as 80 million people across the world. That’s the number of active Android TV devices now being used globally, Google said at I/O.

The company declined to provide a regional breakdown of those numbers, but it said it has seen significant growth of its TV platform in the U.S., where rivals such as Roku are a lot more popular.

Google said the 80 million figure includes users of the new Google TV interface, which is really just a skin laid atop of the Android TV operating system. Google TV is meant to provide a more refined and streamlined experience for users, and can be found on the new Chromecast with Google TV device and also some Sony TVs. Later this year it will come to some of TCL’s new TVs too.

The regular Android TV platform is more widespread, lurking inside devices such as the Nvidia Shield set-top box as well as TVs sold by the likes of Philips, TCL, Sharp, Xiaomi, and more.

Android TV still trails Samsung’s Tizen OS platform, which is said to power more than 100 million Smart TVs. However, the 80 million figure appears to put Android well ahead of Roku and Amazon Fire TV, which both claim around 50 million accounts. That is however a different metric to Google’s active device number, as it’s possible to link more than one device to an account. Apple does not provide any user data for tvOS.