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  • Writer's picturePeter Fontana

8 Essentials of App Development for Smart TV

The result of smart TV app development hanging on a living room wall.>>

Every smart TV and streaming media player is powered by an operating system that incorporates apps for all of today’s popular streaming video services. Developing an app for a smart TV can be challenging, but it is essential – every streaming video service needs an app for every major smart TV operating system.

Key Takeaways

  • In order of market share, the major smart TV operating systems are Samsung Tizen OS, LG WebOS, Android TV/Google TV, and Roku OS.

  • A fully functional smart TV app must be easily viewable and usable on all current TV screen sizes and resolutions, all the way up to 8K UHD.

  • Smart TV apps need to focus on navigation, remote control capability, and modern design principles.

  • Smart TV apps also should organize available content, include smart recommendations, and have a robust yet easy-to-use search feature.

What is a Smart TV App?

The streaming video market is booming, which makes smart TVs a big business. According to Grand View Research, the U.S. market for smart TVs was valued at $197.82 billion in 2022 and is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 13.1% through 2030. This growth doesn’t take into account the market for streaming video players, such as those offered by Amazon and Roku.

U.S. smart TV market 2020-2030

Smart TVs and streaming media players are powered by smart TV operating systems. The operating systems enable the operation of individual smart TV apps that provide access to specific streaming video services.

Each streaming media service has to develop an app for each smart TV operating system. For example, Netflix has apps for Samsung TVs, LG TVs, Roku TVs and streaming media players, Amazon Fire TVs and media players, and more. Each app must be customized for the specific look, feel, and features of each operating system while promoting and providing access to the streaming services’ content.

Developing different but similar apps for all the available smart TV operating systems today is a daunting challenge. But it is a necessary step to garner all possible viewers and reach the full potential of your streaming service.

Best smart TVs 2023.

Essentials for Developing a Smart TV App

Developing a smart TV app is much like developing a smartphone app. Like mobile apps, smart TV apps have to work within the confines of a specific screen size and resolution and take full advantage of the features of the TV’s operating system. Just because the screen’s bigger doesn’t change the basics.

With that in mind, here are eight essentials you need to consider when developing a smart TV app.

1. Know the Operating Systems

The first thing to know about smart TV app development is, like mobile app development, you have to deal with multiple operating systems. All the major smart TV manufacturers either have their own proprietary operating systems or license them from Roku, Amazon, or Google. Similarly, the four primary media player manufacturers (Amazon, Google, and Roku, plus Apple) have their own operating systems, and you want to develop for all of them.

Smart TV operating system market shares, 2017-2020

  • Samsung Tizen OS: This OS powers all of Samsung’s smart TVs. Tizen is the most popular smart TV operating platform worldwide, with a 34.4% market share, thanks to the huge sales numbers of Samsung TVs.

  • LG WebOS: This is the proprietary operating system that powers LG’s smart TVs. WebOS is the number-two smart TV operating system, with a 15.9% market share.

  • Android TV/Google TV: This operating system powers Google’s Chromecast devices and smart TVs from Hisense, Philips, Sharp, Sony, TCL, and other manufacturers. The market share for Android TV has been growing steadily over the past several years and is now the number-three player, with a 15.5% share.

  • Roku OS: This powers Roku’s own streaming media players and TVs from Hisense, Insignia, Philips, RCA, Sharp, and TCL. Despite leading the standalone streaming media players’ market, Roku OS is just the number-four player overall in smart TV operating systems, with a 5.8% market share.

  • Amazon Fire OS: This powers Amazon Fire TV media players and TVs from manufacturers like Insignia, JVC, TCL, and Toshiba.

  • Apple tvOS: This powers Apple’s own Apple TV streaming media players.

There are several other proprietary smart TV operating systems that power certain smart TV brands around the world, including Hisense’s Vidaa, Panasonic’s My Home Screen, Philips’ Saphi, and Vizio’s SmartCast. However, these are not among the major players worldwide. It’s safe to focus on the six major OS listed above, at least for your initial app releases.

2. Understand Screen Sizes and Resolutions

It’s equally important to understand how apps look and function on different screen sizes and resolutions. The smart TV app must be optimized for a range of TV sizes, from 32” diagonal bedroom TVs to extra-large 85” diagonal living room models, and resolutions from 720p to 8K Ultra HD. Also, consider the distance that viewers are likely to sit from the screen and make sure that every screen element is easily visible and accessible.

3. Focus on Navigation

Your smart TV app needs to be easily navigable by the average viewer. That means putting the most common menu choices front and center and not making users click through an inordinate number of screens to get to where they want to go. Common functions need to be intuitive and no function should need an instruction book for viewers to figure out. Navigation needs to be simple and fast.

4. Get a Grip on Remote Control Functionality

Viewers rely on the remote control units that come with their smart TVs or streaming media players to move around the app’s screen. Many remotes, including those from Amazon, Apple, and Roku, have a limited number of buttons, which could limit some app functionality. Make sure your app is usable with those remotes your viewers will be using – and that you take full advantage of any customizable or app-specific buttons on those units.

5. Organize Your Content the Way Users View It

Part and parcel of app design is app organization. You need to organize your content in a logical fashion so users can easily find what they are looking for. Think like the viewer and how viewers segment their content. That probably means offering a “favorites” section, along with “continue viewing” and “view again” sections. Further organization by genre, era, and audience may also be necessary to enhance user experience.

6. Include Smart Recommendations

It’s not enough to highlight programs you want to feature or those the viewers have previously watched. You also need a smart recommendation feature that analyzes users’ viewing histories, browsing patterns, and the like and makes intelligent recommendations for future viewing. Sometimes, you have to lead viewers to their next show – and they better like what you recommend.

7. Don’t Forget the Search

Some viewers browse for programs to watch. Others follow your recommendations. Many more, however, know precisely what they want and prefer to search for it. That means you need to include a robust search function that is also easy to use with a handheld remote control. Even better, if the TV or streaming device manufacturer includes a voice-activated remote control, consider incorporating voice search into the app for an even more seamless user experience.

8. Include Multi-Lingual and Closed Captioning Support

Your app needs to be accessible to non-English speakers and those with hearing difficulties. That means including multi-lingual support and closed captioning – and making it easy to enable both options.

Make Sure Your Smart TV App Includes Download Functionality

Many viewers like to download streaming programs to take with them on their mobile devices. Make sure that your smart TV app includes a download feature, such as that provided by Penthera Download. Penthera Download makes downloading streaming content quick and easy – and provides a competitive edge for your app.

Contact Penthera today to learn more about app development for smart TV.


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