The Android STB: A Logical Step in the Evolution of TV


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If only six years ago someone mentioned Android, some of you would not have recognized the name of the operating system (OS). But as technology has advanced, today the name Android is widely recognized as a successful OS for smartphones, tablets, and increasingly for devices such as Smart TVs, set-top boxes, and in the years to come even smart glasses!

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The Android STB: A Logical Step in the Evolution of TV

  2. 2. THE ANDROID STB: A LOGICAL STEP IN THE EVOLUTION OF TV Beenius ©2 1. Introduction 3 2. The value of applications 4 OVERVIEW 4 MARKET SHARE 5 A VARIETY OF APPS ˝5 STABILITY 6 SECURITY 6 3. The transition from a Linux STB to a Smart STB 7 A NEW PLATFORM FOR STBs 7 SMART TV WITH ANDROID OS 8 ANDROID STB – SMART STB 8 A COST-EFFECTIVE SOLUTION 9 THE OPERATOR’S APP 9 4. Advantages for Operators and the most compelling features 10 REAL USABILITY 10 AN ADVANTAGE FOR OPERATORS 11 5. Conclusion 13 About Beenius and the Authors 14
  3. 3. 3 THE ANDROID STB: A LOGICAL STEP IN THE EVOLUTION OF TV Beenius © Introduction If only six years ago someone mentioned Android, some of you would not have recognized the name of the operating system (OS). But as technology has advanced, today the name Android is widely recognized as a successful OS for smartphones, tablets, and increasingly for devices such as Smart TVs, set-top boxes, and in the years to come even smart glasses! The Android OS is installed in over 500 million devices worldwide and has a smartphone market share of 79%, according to Gartner research (Q2/2013)1 . Due to the improved user experience, open source system, simple and freely- accessed API, nowadays we are witnessing a shift regarding the Android OS from mobile devices and cameras to STBs and TVs. As with all devices with the Android OS, Android STBs can offer all applications to end-users via Google Play, if so requested by the Operator of its STB vendor. On their TVs, end-users can then enjoy playing games, reading and sending e-mails, engaging with friends via social media networks – all on a platform they are familiar with. Forecasts for the TV services industry show that in the long term Smart TVs might very likely prevail2 over the TV-STB combination, due to improved design and simplicity for TV end-users, coupled with a decrease in costs for Operators as additional hardware is no longer needed when providing TV service. However, the transition from a Linux STB directly to a Smart TV cannot be achieved overnight. Operators should be aware that the transition may require two steps – first to Android STBs and then to Smart TVs, so that the end-user experience is adjusted while Operators are more likely to achieve their sales targets in the next few years. The most important entity in this essential transition strategy is the middleware provider, who needs to ensure that the Operator has a diversified portfolio of supported clients and devices (including Android STBs) and no additional costs incurred by the Operator carrying out this transition/migration. In this paper Beenius provides facts and argumentation supported by market data, and concludes with a suggested solution for those TV Operators who are currently looking to improve their TV services without having to deal with the inherent complexity or transition costs charged by the middleware vendor. > 1. 1 TechCrunch (URL:; Original source: 2 Dazeinfo (URL: will-be-internet-connected-smart-tvs-by-2016/)
  4. 4. THE ANDROID STB: A LOGICAL STEP IN THE EVOLUTION OF TV Beenius ©4 > 2. The value of applications It is applications that make hardware devices smart devices. Let’s have a look at some basic market data on apps for the Android OS. OVERVIEW The history of Android began in 2007 with the release of Android Beta. The first commercial version was released in September 2008. Since April 2009, each Android version has been developed under a code name. The first one was named Cupcake and the latest one is known as Jelly Bean, with KitKat, the next version, just announced but not yet released. Android’s market for applications, Google Play (formerly known as the Android Market), today offers more than 1 million applications. The number of Android app downloads increases by the day. Google announced the 48 billionth Android app download in 20133 . 3 Google IO (URL: 4 Google IO (URL: android_applications_for_google_tv.pdf) Froyo Gingerbread Gingerbread Honeycomb Cupcake Donut Eclair Ice Cream Sandwich Jelly Bean Gingerbread Froyo Eclair Jelly Bean 2011 2013 Source: Android Developers 20132011 Many TV vendors as well as advanced TV end-users have expressed a desire to adopt the technology, in other words, a willingness to introduce Android devices into TV systems. In 2009, the notion of Android-based set-top boxes was finally discussed. Now, just a few years later, applications from Google Play are finally available for “first-screen TV users” too. TV Operators and advanced users can write applications in Android SDK, upload them to an Android-based STB, and even sell and distribute them over the Google Play store4 .
  5. 5. 5 THE ANDROID STB: A LOGICAL STEP IN THE EVOLUTION OF TV Beenius © MARKET SHARE According to Gartner research, Android currently dominates the worldwide smartphone market with a 79% market share (Q2/2013)5 . Today, Google’s Android powers almost 4 out of 5 handsets. In Q3 2012, for the first time, the Samsung Galaxy S3 sold more units than the iPhone 4S and iPhone 5. From Q2 2012 to Q3 2013, Android increased its market share by 10.2%6 . Today, Android rules the roost. Will the Android OS grow further or has it peaked? In Q2 2009, Android’s worldwide market share was only 2.8%. By Q4 2010, its share had risen to 33% and Android soon became the top-selling smartphone platform. Every year, Android’s share is higher and higher. As was stated above, Android’s share has increased more than 10% over last year and is now 75%. This entails that because of its enormous popularity, Android is also becoming a very desirable TV OS. 5 TechCrunch (URL:; Original source: 6 Forbes (URL: share-stories-benefit-android-and-obscure-everyone-else/) Android smartphone worldwide market share Source: Gartner (August 2013) Operating System 2Q13 2Q13 Market 2Q12 2Q12 Market Units Share (%) Units Share (%) Android 177,898.2 79.0 98,664.0 64.2 iOS 31,899.7 14.2 28,935.0 18.8 Microsoft 7,407.6 3.3 4,039.1 2.6 BlackBerry 6,180.0 2.7 7,991.2 5.2 Bada 838.2 0.4 4,208.8 2.7 Symbian 630.8 0.3 9,071.5 5.9 Others 471.7 0.2 863.3 0.6 Total 225,326.2 100.0 153,772.9 100.0 A VARIETY OF APPS There are more than 30 categories available on Google Play. There are more and more apps that provide TV and On-Demand content on second-screen devices such as Android tablets or smartphones, as well as on first-screen devices such as Smart TVs with the Android OS or an Android STB. But we need to keep in mind that the majority of such apps are primarily optimized for smartphones or tablets. That does not necessarily mean that they do not work on TV, but, e.g., there could be resolution problems or for some games on TV there might be a problem with a remote control that does not support all commands. But among such applications there are also some that enable users to watch TV content such as Pay TV that are more advanced; if these are developed in the right way, they can ensure the main task of TV – to enable users to watch linear TV and provide On-Demand content where the user can find and buy his favorite movie and even recommend it to friends. And it is just such an app that has been specially designed by Beenius and that offers the best-of-breed solution for TV Operators.
  6. 6. THE ANDROID STB: A LOGICAL STEP IN THE EVOLUTION OF TV Beenius ©6 7 Marvell (URL: Android_for_CE_devices-02_whitepaper_r3.pdf) 8 Verimatrix (URL: STABILITY With thousands of new apps published every week on Google Play, it is important to focus on visibility and high ratings. Developers can improve the visibility of their apps in the ecosystem by deploying well-targeted mobile advertising campaigns and cross-app promotions. Google Play editors have many tools and techniques for testing and profiling developers’ apps on different devices and in different scenarios that affect overall app stability ratings and user satisfaction. One noteworthy and relatively underused tool for catching stability issues such as crashes is the UI/Application Exerciser Monkey, which together with Google error-reporting features, which enable users to report application errors to developers, makes Android apps more stable. SECURITY Android provides a robust multi-layered security architecture that provides the flexibility required for an open platform, while concurrently providing protection for all platform users and their content. An application can only access a limited range of system resources by default. If an application is used incorrectly or maliciously, it adversely impacts the user experience, network, data, and device – and that is why the system manages the application’s access to resources. What is more, in order to create a second line of defense, some Android STB manufacturers have additionally upgraded the hardware-based security with a cryptographic key and trusted video path7 and added DRM applications for content security8 . In light of all these restrictions and security requirements, Android as a TV platform has become even more secure than others devices, as has the content accessed inside the Android OS. The only problem is that the more a system is used, the more it is attacked – but this also means that greater support can be offered, as well as a quicker response in terms of security updates. Android users download more than 1.5 billion apps each month. Source: Android Developers Q 1 Q 2 Q 3 Q 4 Q 1 Q 2 Q 3 Q 4 Q 1 Q 2 Q 3 Q 4 Q 1 2009 2010 2011 2012
  7. 7. 7 THE ANDROID STB: A LOGICAL STEP IN THE EVOLUTION OF TV Beenius © Historically a Highly Dynamic Platform Market Source: ComScore The transition from a Linux STB to a Smart STB The set-top box market is alive and slowly but surely growing. STB revenue grew by about 10% in the past year. The set-top box market is expected to grow from 221 million in 2011 to 242 million in 2016. A new study carried out by WinterGreen Research, Set Top Boxes: Market Shares, Strategy, and Forecasts, Worldwide, 2012 to 2018, states that the worldwide set-top box market is poised to achieve significant growth, which will provide a way to improve the home TV experience and STBs with the Android OS are another step in this direction. A NEW PLATFORM FOR STBs Nowadays, set-top boxes provide a complete package of entertainment, with all internet and video services coming from the TV Operator. For all new set-top boxes, standard channels and internet capability will be accessible from the same environment – if this is supported by the Operator’s middleware. Fundamentally, a STB is usually an embedded Linux system that connects to satellite, cable, or the internet and allows Live TV viewing, channel recording, and playback in digital format. On the Linux OS, with different kinds of STB middleware with standards-based SVG, HTML, and JavaScript GUI, Operators can offer end-users a TV solution device. Because Linux allows rapid development using open source components, this allowed the evolution of the Android STB. The Android OS actually has an embedded Linux kernel together with the Android Software Stack. And with Android today being the most desirable platform for a wide range of devices, also STBs with Android are attracting the market and in the future they may be the main option for STBs on the market9 . That is why the advantage of an Android STB in comparison to a Linux STB lies exactly in the familiarity of the platform. As can be seen in the huge change in market share in less than a decade (see the graphic to the left), we are witnessing the unrelenting march of Android toward the STB market. > 3. 9 CSI Whitepapers (URL: 100% 0% 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012
  8. 8. THE ANDROID STB: A LOGICAL STEP IN THE EVOLUTION OF TV Beenius ©8 Interactive TV service on Android STB SMART TV WITH ANDROID OS The Smart TV with Android OS (called Google TV) was co-developed with Intel, Sony, and Logitech, and was launched in October 2012. Google TV is a software platform that aims to combine classic Linear TV and video content from the web through a variety of applications and add-ons (widgets). In terms of the times in which we live, Google TV has not been rapidly adopted. We can assume that after withdrawing STB devices, TV Operators will have lower costs with STB devices, especially if they provide users a rental. Interactive TV will be even more accessible. The speculation that arises is that as Internet TV becomes more the norm in today’s world, Google TV will still have an advantage due to the existing group of Android users and will become the TV of choice. That is why the Android STB is coming to the fore and an operator that offers Pay TV services will still need to be present on Google TV or an Android STB as an application in order to offer customers content. ANDROID STB – SMART STB What does it actually mean when we talk about the Android operating system running on a set-top box? It is not just another Android application or device, but an intermediate stage between a classic set-top box device and a “convenient” Smart TV device without any additional box or device. A STB with an operating system that enables many applications and with the possibility to download more applications makes a STB a smart device. The platform is made for a combination of Linear TV channels from the user’s existing TV provider’s line (cable / satellite) along with content from the internet – including some well known OTT services from various TV content providers within a given app. As is the case with all devices becoming smaller and smaller, also set-top boxes with the Android operating system are usually neatly designed boxes with different kinds of remote controls, keyboards, and common connectivity options, including an SD card reader, HDMI outputs (with CEC), USB ports, Bluetooth, an integrated Ethernet port and WiFi connection, even GPS. SD
  9. 9. 9 THE ANDROID STB: A LOGICAL STEP IN THE EVOLUTION OF TV Beenius © What is also important for streaming content is that the device supports high quality video / image processing, different players for media playback in multiple streaming protocols, such as RTP/ RTSP/ HTTP/ HTTP Live Streaming, Unicast, and Multicast, different input sources, such as DVB/ATSC/ISDB/IPTV, as well as local files, DLNA content, etc., and also supports several DRM systems10 . A COST-EFFECTIVE SOLUTION An Android STB is a fully functional STB like a regular Linux STB, usually with even more effective hardware and more common connectivity options with lower costs; furthermore, there are many manufacturers. We can also assume that, sooner or later, the Android operating system will be increasingly present in Smart TVs and no STBs will be needed, which is also indicated by Google’s deal to sell the Motorola set-top box division to Arris. But it is clear that the need for a set-top box is still high, and for this reason Android STBs are becoming an increasingly cost-effective solution. In addition, we need to understand that nowadays Operators cannot just leave behind users with Linux STBs which still serve their purpose well in order to make TV interactive, as well as what the Android STB is trying to achieve. We also need to be aware that not all end-users will consider buying a Smart TV. Perhaps they are already using an Android STB and the Operator as an app can also reach such customers. That is why Android STBs entail an additional offer for Operators beside Linux STBs and by which they can remain a step ahead while already being present as an app in a suitable – and to end-users more known – environment, which Android definitely is. Operators can offer a middleware solution for Linux STBs on cost-effective user-friendly Android STBs as an app, which will make a regular TV at a lower hardware cost also a Smart TV. THE OPERATOR’S APP As mentioned numerous times above, it is crucial to understand that Android as a platform on STBs is a big advantage exactly because it is an environment known to the user. And if on this platform the Operator provides an interactive and user-friendly application for accessing TV content, it has great potential to satisfy its customers. An Operator that is already present on other devices and has middleware that supports Open API for building applications should not have any concerns adding new clients to its solutions. These applications can be preinstalled on STBs within the Android OS, which automatically launches the application upon STB start up, or the Operator can install them separately. On the other hand, the Operator can use the advantages of the Google Play app store, whereby it can offer its app and customers can download it on their own and set it to launch upon start-up of the STB; all the Operator needs to provide is access to its service. A client such as an Android STB has access to the server service and in order for the application to be secure the customer needs to be authorized. Beenius implements this through its integrated OAuth authorization, which in a simple, effective, and standardized method provides the best security guarantee to the Operator. 10 Marvell (URL: Android_for_CE_devices-02_whitepaper_r3.pdf)
  10. 10. THE ANDROID STB: A LOGICAL STEP IN THE EVOLUTION OF TV Beenius ©10 Advantages for Operators and the most compelling features Interactive TV Operators have started to thoroughly consider Android-based STB devices. They would like to benefit from all the advantages the new platform offers. Among these are the following: • A wide variety of already existing and popular Android applications that can be directly used on a large TV screen or that are adapted for such use. Several examples are applications for obtaining information about travel, stock markets, news services, shopping, etc. • There are many available games, whereas some will need to be specially adapted for use with a remote control in order to be played on a large TV screen. Alternatively, additional game controllers (joysticks, steering wheels, game pads) can be connected to the STB and players can still enjoy the benefits of a large TV screen. • The straightforward evolutionary path from TV sets with STBs to the Operator’s network, consisting only of Smart TVs and mobile devices. Since such a network is the technological prospect, use of Android STBs is the logical intermediate step in this evolution. Middleware client applications on Android STBs ensure the same user experience, the same set of services, and the same content as applications on other devices (including Smart TVs, to which such evolution is heading). This all makes the Operator’s TV service unified over all devices used and simplifies the evolution of the network. A smaller number of platforms (with no need to maintain Linux-based STB devices) also reduces operational costs. • There exists a good chance to incorporate TV control devices other than remote controls, e.g. body gestures or voice commands, since devices such as these are likely to be developed rapidly and conveniently for an open platform. The same is also valid for video conferencing devices (incorporating microphones and cameras). All this together enables Operators to offer additional services and also a comprehensive and attractive user interface. • Reasonable pricing compared to Linux-based devices, especially when taking into account the usually very good HW capabilities (processor power, amount of memory) and the wide range of supported video standards. REAL USABILITY Operators can also predefine a set of applications they consider particularly attractive and useful for their end-users. These applications can already be preinstalled on the Operator’s Android STB or at least made easy for the end- user to install (e.g. by download and installation with several clicks). This enables Operators to promote certain applications (and the providers of the services behind these applications) and even contributes to revenue sharing with them. > 4.
  11. 11. 11 THE ANDROID STB: A LOGICAL STEP IN THE EVOLUTION OF TV Beenius © Another attractive feature is also the transmission of information on the show the viewer is currently watching (i.e. the title, cast, etc.) to an application that provides further information on that particular show. Then, with a single click on their remote control, the viewer can start the other application and be connected to a movie or view information databases. They benefit from all the additional information that such applications provide and can obtain deeper information than available in existing EPG and VoD content metadata. This is all made simpler with the use of the Android platform as a single platform for both middleware client applications and well-known Android applications. At least some Operators will want to use their existing managed network with multicast support. They may view Android STBs purely as a replacement for Linux-based STBs. However, Android STBs have several new features, such as that they support many popular applications, but they also have to cover all existing IPTV habits. And support for multicast linear TV playout is high on the list of priorities for such Operators. So Interactive TV middleware vendors should be sure to equip their products and solutions with support for this functionality. The same is also true for support for DVB. Android STBs usually enable DVB reception by means of an additional HW plug-in module or an external dongle. Again, for Operators that run a hybrid network, this is a must have. AN ADVANTAGE FOR OPERATORS AAs Android STBs are considered a possible step in the evolution of Interactive TV to a network with predominantly Smart TVs, Operators should also think about the migration process in that direction, especially in terms of licensing client applications for particular devices. Some Interactive TV middleware vendors devote a great deal of attention to this topic and are attempting to make migrations between devices introduced in the future as easy as possible. For example, Beenius offers one unified license for a subscriber with a first- screen device, regardless of whether they are using a Linux-based STB or an Android-based STB or a Smart TV, thus making future migration for the Operator simple and without any additional costs or logistical issues regarding the upgrade of licenses. Of course, there are some concerns Operators might have. The rumors that the Android OS is not secure enough and that it cannot serve as a platform for distributing premium content have been rejected11 . Since established vendors of CAS/DRM systems, well known from Linux-based STB devices, currently support several vendors of Android STBs (after a thorough certification procedure of both HW and SW), this proves that the platform is also capable of serving security-demanding applications. Mention should also be made of the Widewine DRM system, which is widespread in the Android environment since its DRM clients are available for the majority of (if not all) chip vendors and thereby also for the majority of Android STB vendors. 11 Verimatrix (URL:
  12. 12. THE ANDROID STB: A LOGICAL STEP IN THE EVOLUTION OF TV Beenius ©12 Developers of client applications that are very often Interactive TV middleware vendors, such as Beenius, also perform detailed certification procedures for various STB equipment. These procedures are aimed at proving that both the HW and Android builds together with video player capabilities, DRM/ CAS functionalities, and others fulfill the Operators’ and middleware vendor’s requirements. Since the user experience is crucial for interactive TV service, special attention is devoted to remote controls. As STB vendors offer different remote controls with more or fewer buttons and at various price levels, client applications should be prepared in such a manner that they can support several different types – from the minimized versions (and lowest price) with only a limited number of buttons, to fully equipped remotes with color and numeric keys, as we are accustomed to from Linux-based devices.
  13. 13. 13 THE ANDROID STB: A LOGICAL STEP IN THE EVOLUTION OF TV Beenius © Conclusion Analyses of Interactive TV trends predict that by 2020 one half of all video viewing will be on devices other than STBs12 . This includes devices that are connected to the internet via a broadband connection, mainly smartphones, tablets, Smart TVs, game consoles, laptops/PCs, and Blue-ray players. Operators should migrate to new devices too. They have started to offer TV services on second-screen devices and on Smart TVs, and should continue in that direction confidently. As predictions show, second-screen devices and applications will very soon become as important as large TV screens. Interactive TV Operators need to offer their customers at least client applications for Smart TVs and smartphones/tablets. A STB may no longer be needed tomorrow, but one is still required today in most Operators’ networks. Several advantages of Android STBs were described in the previous section. Besides these advantages, there are, however, also some drawbacks. But these will probably be resolved soon, as more experience from real-world deployments is gathered, but for the moment they are still hindering the rapid expansion of Android STBs. One of disadvantages is the concern that there is a potential security threat to Operator networks since the Android platform might be more prone to eventual abuse by hackers than the relatively more closed and controlled environment of Linux-based STBs. Then there is the concern regarding how to react (and how to check) if something goes wrong in the network. Generally, the level of confidence in troubleshooting tools is lower compared to Linux-based STBs – especially since tools for checking the quality and troubleshooting of video streams (as well as tools for troubleshooting the STB platform itself) are almost never supplied by Android vendors themselves. Operators have to rely on third party applications. So a winning Interactive TV middleware implementation should support both Linux and Android STBs, as well as Smart TVs, tablets/smartphones, and PCs. This is made simple with an open middleware platform that enables devices to be connected via documented APIs and allows for easy implementation of new client applications for new devices. Many Linux and Android STB vendors should be certified in order to interoperate with a middleware platform, thus enabling Operators to choose the vendor that best suits them. Interactive TV middleware implementation should also enable smooth migration between devices (in terms of flexible licensing and simple provisioning) as Operators’ networks evolve. Android STBs are a logical step in the evolution of TV, but evolution never happens overnight. In balancing the pros and cons of Android STBs, Operators will have to decide on either the deployment of Android STBs and aggressively benefit from their advantages, or more conservatively start deploying Linux based STBs today and continue with Android as soon as the technology becomes more mature. In any case, Operators should decide on an Interactive TV platform that supports all the popular devices of today, allows easy implementation of client applications for new devices, and enables smooth migration between them. > 5. 12 TGD (URL:
  14. 14. About Beenius Beenius is the developer of Beesmart, interactive TV middleware for modern TV service operators that deliver the most exciting interactive TV experience to their subscribers. Beesmart empowers the uniqueness of every operator by providing a TV platform along with the tools for extensive upgrades and prompt customizations in a cost-effective manner. Beenius has a proven track record of successful customers and partners, and is committed to continuously delivering the means for their sustainable growth. For more information about Beenius, please visit our website: About the Authors Beenius writes its own White Papers and does not outsource such services. This allows us to focus on market requirements and increase knowledge and experience while sharing such with our market. We write these papers for you – so that you can make better decisions. The team that contributed to this paper among others includes Dejan Pavsek, Product Manager at Beenius, Miha Cerar, Junior Product Manager, and Nika Mohar, Marketing Manager at Beenius. For additional inquiries specifically concerning the topic of this paper, please contact us at > >