Android 11 launched today although the news is unlikely to matter much to Android TV device owners, considering there was no mention of support. While not surprising due to how far Android TV has fallen behind Android mobile in terms of updates, all is not lost.
Google launched the very first release of Android 11 today. This is not even a beta release, but an alpha designed for developers to prepare for the commercial release. The first proper Android 11 beta is expected to arrive in the next few weeks, starting off the chain of beta releases that will follow before the official launch of Android 11 later in the year.
With the developer preview now here, anyone with a compatible device can download and install the latest version of Android. In years gone by this included Android TV with files also being made available for the Nexus Player – but things have changed in recent years. Not only was the Nexus Player discontinued in 2016, but it ceased receiving all update support in 2018. Since then, major Android TV updates have continued to slow down and lag further behind Android mobile.
To put the difference into perspective, the developer preview of Android 10 launched in March, 2019. However, it was not until December when Google formally announced Android 10 for Android TV. That was just the support announcement, with the expectation that it will be this year when existing Android TV devices actually get updated to Android 10.
Android TV updates may improve with recent policy changes
While some 2020 Android TV devices will likely come running on Android 10 at launch, Google has been looking at ways in which it can improve the update process in general.
In 2019, Google introduced changes to its update policies for manufacturers. These changes included guaranteeing two major upgrades after launch. In addition, the last upgrade must be at least the third OS version after launch. Essentially, this means an Android TV device-maker would have to skip the next natural upgrade at least once and jump to a newer version.
For example, if an Android TV device launches on Android 9 Pie (like the NVIDIA SHIELD TV 2019), then it is now expected that the company either skip Android 10 in favor of an Android 11 update, or skip Android 11 in favor of an Android 12 update. In theory, the company can skip twice, resulting in the Android 9 Pie device jumping straight to Android 11, and then jumping again to Android 13.
If Google makes Android 11 available to manufacturers sooner than it did Android 10, those companies who launched Android 9 Pie devices could focus on updating straight to Android 11, instead of working on an Android 10 update first – only then to move to Android 11 support.
This might mean some delays as to when a device gets its next update, but at the same time it would also mean the device is eventually updated to a newer version of Android TV sooner.