A basic requirement of the living room TV experience is to ensure that the interface and content are suitable for multiple users and people of all ages and tastes. Almost six years after its launch, Android TV is still moving forward and lacks this essential functionality, although some of its competitors, such as Apple TV, have already implemented it. Without it, the platform remains ill-suited to families and multi-user households.
Limited support for multiple accounts
At a basic level, Android TV supports multiple Google accounts. You can add them by going to Settings> Accounts and login, but this only ensures that other authenticated email addresses are quickly accessible on the TV. They can be selected in Google Assistant, the Play Store, Google Play Games and a few other applications, but they must be changed manually, one by one.
Left: Add more accounts in Android TV settings. Right: Wizard allows you to choose one.
This rudimentary multi-account approach has been available since 2016 and has not changed since. Your home screen, installed applications, Then play recommendations, research, and everything else is the same for all accounts. There are no suitable profiles and certainly no age-specific restrictions when launching Android TV.
A welcome screen for everyone.
Bad experience for multi-user households
If you live with roommates, a partner, or family members, this setting impairs everyone’s experience. Different users should agree on what the home screen should look like for everyone and the recommendations will be mixed according to everyone’s taste and usage.
The primary account holder must choose between having the best experience (including getting Google Assistant, their own YouTube content, search history, etc.) and giving everyone access to their data. Others have to manually switch profiles in different apps or forgo any kind of personalized experience. Broadcasting could be a workaround for them, but that means they can’t take advantage of any of the native Android TV apps and usage benefits.
Manual account change in the Play Store (left), Play Music (middle) and Play Games (right).
It gets really tedious very quickly. If you want to download an app that you have already purchased from the Play Store, you must make sure that your account is selected; if you want to play a game and synchronize your progress and achievements with Play Games, you must manually switch to your account; if you want to listen to your music, you must select your account.
But perhaps the most annoying thing is YouTube. It’s probably one of the most used apps on the Android TV platform, and it doesn’t allow you to switch profiles easily. Only one user can be logged in at a time, so anyone else who wants to access their history and playlists must open the app, go to the account tab, log out the previous person, and then log in. At home, we never forget to do it, and the end result is that my YouTube research, my history and my recommendations were influenced by my husband’s viewing habits.
Left: YouTube account. Middle: Sign out. Right: Reconnect.
Yet YouTube is moving away from Google Play Movies and TV, which just doesn’t recognize the existence of other users, or at least I haven’t figured out how to do it. There is no setting to switch accounts, and the library always shows movies and shows purchased and rented from the main account.
Google Play Movies & TV does not have the manual account selector.
While it is easy to agree on a few limits and best practices when you live with a single partner, it becomes much more complicated when children or more roommates are involved, and this is where the Android TV experience suffers.
Third-party applications and workarounds
In the absence of clear user differentiation, third-party apps on Android TV have introduced their own fixes for the problem. Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Plex, Spotify, and other streaming and content-consuming services have added their own multi-profile or multi-user switches.
For some, like Netflix and Plex, the option is the first thing you see when you open the app; for others, the switch is more elaborate and requires you to delve into settings or accounts. Sometimes a PIN code or verification is required, but this is not always the case. There is no unified approach, each department has chosen what works for them. The result, as you can see, is an inconsistent experience between Google’s own apps and different types of third-party apps.
Left: Profile selector in Plex at launch. Right: Spotify multi-user selector.
The restricted profile is not a real solution
The only solution that Android TV offers to multiple users is the restricted profile. It is a secondary profile with fewer privileges than the primary account can create, control and lock by PIN.
To configure it, go to Settings> Device Preferences> Security & Restrictions> Create Restricted Profile. You can then enter the 4-digit PIN code and activate only a few applications of your choice. A new Restricted profile The icon appears on the Android TV home screen, allowing you to quickly access this mode.
Configuration of a restricted profile.
Once you’ve changed, a new home screen will appear with authorized apps, no access to the Play Store, silo storage, and only certain system settings. The behavior of the app is a bit shaky in my experience. For example, on YouTube, no matter what I did, I couldn’t log in with any account, and the experience was like browsing in incognito mode. I was greeted with lots of useless local videos and the recommendations never matched what I watched. Hiding inappropriate content has also been disabled by default in the app settings, and even if I have it enabled, anyone can still disable it because it is not PIN protected. I suppose YouTube Kids would be better suited if you use this restricted profile with children, but the app is not available in all countries.
To exit restricted mode, you must enter the PIN code, which only the main Android TV user knows. Putting the TV on standby or turning it off does not bypass it, because you will always be locked in restricted mode when the TV turns on again.
Use of a restricted profile.
While this may seem like a potential solution for children, it is still a long way from the appropriate support for multiple accounts. On the one hand, you only get two profiles: the main and the restricted – no third or fourth option is available. Second, you need to remember to start and switch on the TV before letting the kids browse their content; or you need to turn it on each time before you turn off your TV, so if children have unattended access to it, it’s already locked. This imposes a responsibility on parents, who must always be aware of the mode in which the television is located.
For these two reasons, the restricted mode seems more suitable for occasional use than for daily use. This is something that you turn on if you have temporary guests or if you run an AirBnB from time to time, but it is not a suitable solution for partners, roommates or an alternative to parental controls.
Unlike Android smartphones (and possibly tablets), Android TV should have been built from scratch with multiple profiles in mind. Still, we have decent multi-user support on phones and tablets, but not on the TV which is usually in the middle of the living room and is used by everyone.
The Android TV experience is hostile to anything except a housekeeping or a room for a single person. Home screen, apps, game progress, search history, wizard queries, YouTube experience and more are tailored for a single user, and the only “solution” is isn’t really a practical long-term solution.
The best way would be to present people with a profile selector when the TV turns on, let them choose the one they want, enter a PIN code for verification and be offered a fully personalized experience, no change in manual account required in any application. Unfortunately, it still seems far-fetched.