Serenity for Android: Designing for Android TV Devices

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Serenity for Android

Design Tips for making your App work well on Android TV devices

Big Android BBQ 2013David Carver

Gplus: David Carver or Serenity for AndroidTwitter: @kingargyle

What is Serenity

Plex Media Server Client for Androd TV Devices, Game consoles, and tablets.

Optimized for Remote and D-Pad navigation

Open Source project available on github

Available in the Google Play store.

MIT Licensed

Android TV what does it include?

Google TV devicesSony NS7/8, Vizio Co-Star, Asus Cube

Android TV sticks and HDMI devices

Tablets connected to the TV

Gaming consoles like the OUYA

Anything that supports the system feature!

Why Design for TV???

I had an Itch that Needed Scratched

Plex App was constantly crashing

The UI was frustrating to use with a Remote

Wanted to learn Android Development and seemed like a good thing to do at the time.

Tired of TV Apps getting second class treatment.

Wanted a more Media Center layout for Plex.

Apps designed for TV don't need to SUCK!!

Android TV apps suck because Developers let them suck!

A Tablet App will work fine on a TV!

The truth...Maybe

An app designed for Landscape mode on a tablet may work, but the user experience will probably suffer.

Plex on Google TV before Redesign

Failure Points

The app may run, but will probably provide a frustrating user experience.

These apps are designed for Touch and typically do not take into account other ways to interact with the app.

Using a Mouse is frustrating on the TV. If the user has to use the mouse pointer, it is a design failure.

Need to design with the TV environment or Accessibility in mind.

Guidelines?We don't need no stinking guidelines!

Google TV Design Guidelines

Design for D-PAD not for Touch interface

Avoid the use of the Mouse or Touchpad.

Emphasize obvious items that can be selected or interacted with.

Back Button should exit or take back to previous screen.

Give visual indicators when more information is provided off screen (i.e. scrolling required)

Visually Appealing

Design with Visual AppealApps are going to be in people's living rooms.

TVs are ment to be visual displays

You want the wow factor to help bring people back.

However it needs to be simple and functional.

Limit the number of clicks that a person has to get to anything on the screen.

Visually Appealing

Prefer darker themes.Lighter themes tend to be to bright and harder to read

TV Brightness varies greatly, and depends on room environments.

Holo themes and color schemes work well.


Design with Zones in mind.

Anti Pattern

D-Pad Navigation can't skip zones. The long scrolling list in the center has to be navigated through to get to the bottom zone.

You can make this Work

Limit the center content to Detail information or focusable items that don't scroll. This allows navigation through the zone quickly.

Google Recommends Vertical Zones

Create Quick Navigation Keys

Provide ways to Navigate quickly through long lists.

Provide ways to get back to the top of a list quickly.

To get to the bottom quickly.

Break Long Lists into separate screens.

Provide Filtering/Search to narrow scope of items.

Remember to Focus


Focus will be the most important and time consuming aspect of your app. Getting Focus and the navigation around on screen focusable items is just as important if not more important than the look of the app.

That great tablet embeddable card layout may not work as well with a Remote or D-Pad.

Avoid the Card Design with Embeddable Clickable Items.

Avoid the Embedded Clickable Item

Avoid Horizontal Scroll with Side Menu (There is an exception)

Avoid Search at top of Page, Place it in Left Nav Bar or Sliding Menu

Horizontal Zone Pattern

Horizontal 2 Zone Pattern

Horizontal Two Zone, Horizontal Grid Scroll View

Horizontal 3 Zone Pattern

Horizontal 3 Zone. Zone 2 and 3 are Side Scrolling

Avoid Content that Scrolls Vertically in Zone 2!

In general avoid vertical scrolling

Horizontal Zone PatternWith Sliding Menu

Horizontal 3 Zone with Sliding Menu

Veritcal Zone PatternThe Good and the Ugly

Good Use of 3 Zone Vertical Layout

Use Vertical Scroll Grid View with Side Menu / Left Nav Bar

Fewer clicks to get to the Side Content

Avoid Vertical and Horizontal Scrolling

When in Content Zone don't scroll both directions.

Top Items Hard to get too. Due to Vertical scrolling center content.

Left Nav Bar hard to get to due to Horizontal Scrolling content

New Plex has same issue. Horizontal and Vertical Scroll content

Text and Icons

Provide large readable fonts.

Screen space is at a premium. Even at 1920x1080p. User is sitting about 10ft away so need to make text and fonts legible from that distance.

Set up your Google TV development device from that distance.

Tips for Developing and Testing

You must unlearn....what you have learned.


Allows for the Play Store to allow the app to be installed on a Android TV device.

For Honeycomb Google TV devices.

General UI Consideration

TV's are always at least layout-large and layout-notouch resources.

Drawables are HDPI resolution or higher.

TV's are always Landscape.

Darker themes are easier to view than lighter.

TV Apps should be Full Screen Apps. The app will be used on the largest most popular device in the house. Give it that special treatment.

Keep your design consistent. Stick with either Vertical or Horizontal pattern throughout the app. Easier for user to learn. If changing the pattern make it a user choice to do so (i.e. multiple layouts)

Remember to Focus

android:focusable="true" android:focusableInTouchMode="true" android:descendantFocusability="afterDescendants" android:nextFocusDown="@+id/mainGalleryMenu" android:nextFocusUp="@+id/menu_button" android:nextFocusRight="@+id/mainGalleryMenu" android:nextFocusLeft="@+id/mainGalleryMenu">



View.requestFocus(int direction)

Remember to specifically set focus when hiding and showing off screen views (i.e Sliding Menu Drawers)


Use a Nexus 7 screen resolution. Also use the Google TV Add On.

Use Intel Images (Much faster)

Enable D-Pad with Google TV Add On.

Dog Food your App

Get an Android Smart TV device and test your app there. Screen resolutions will vary due to Overscan

Use your own App. If you get frustrated, others will.

Test both for Touch and for various controller inputs. Remote, Game Controller, VoiceNot all Remotes are created equal

Avoid Proprietary Extensions

Avoid using undocumented APIs. You'll back yourself into a corner.

You can survive in Honeycomb.NDK support comign with Jelly Bean update for Android TVs

Compatibility library works well when needed

Plenty of Open source widgets and libraries that can be used. Adds negligible size.

KeyCode Events

Android supports a wide variety of Media Key CodesPlay, Skip Forward, Pause, Stop, Skip Back

Channel Up and Channel Down make good Page Up and Page Down alternatives for quick navigation.

Remember many Android TVs do have keyboards in the remote. Provide keyboard short cuts for your app.

Context Menus

Use Context Menus to provide context sensitive information.Don't use the Action Bar especially with Grid or Scrollable content

Beware of the dreaded onItemLongClick bug with Remotes and Game Controllers. It'll fire both Click and Long Click events.Give option to map Menu key to context menu

Provide alternatives to bring up context menu

Don't embed your context menus into clickable drop down menus in cards or list items!!!Users need to reach for mouse or touch pad. Automatic failure at this point.


Use Animations sparinglyTV Devices are typically slower than Phones/Tablets

Can appear to slow down the app.

Becareful of views that always fire an OnSelect event. Design views that can ignore on select during fling operations.

Network is always on, less concern about wifi usage and consumption.

Do implement caches, devices still have limited storage

Open Source Widgets that Work well for the TV


Provides a horizontal scrolling grid.

Child views don't get focus. Minor bug.


Sliding Menu with easy configuration

Respects focus. Not all do.

Thanks To

Spiderfly Studios for Logo and some graphic design work

Google TV Friends for initial promotion of the app and helping get the word out.

Stackoverflow community for the many helpful tips