Google Chromecast: Here's why it's the most important smart TV tech ever
Netflix, YouTube are just the tip of the iceberg
Built for both consumers and developers
There are lots of possibilities here that have yet to be explored. One common complaint about Chromecast is that it doesn't support streaming from local media sources. But it very likely could. All it might take is for a streaming media server such as Plex to add support for Chromecast to its existing Android and iOS apps. (And in fact, the Plex people have tweeted that they have already ordered several of the devices.)
Google's decision to use a secondary device for the Chromecast UI shouldn't be overlooked, either. Smart TVs and set-top boxes tend to put all of the controls on the TV screen, but customers so far have generally been disappointed with these interfaces. Letting users send content to their TVs using UIs that they already use and understand – UIs on their mobile devices – could prove to be the magic trick that gets the mainstream public interested in internet TV.
Finally, don't expect Google's $35 dongle to be the end-all of Chromecast. It seems more than likely that the technology will be built into future generations of Google TV–enabled smart TVs, at minimum, and other device makers could eventually get on board as well. Given that today's dongle is inexpensive and relatively low-powered, the barrier to entry appears low.
But a few outstanding issues remain. Browsing and searching for content on a mobile device may be much preferable to doing the same on an awkward TV-based UI, but actually playing content – pausing it, rewinding it, fast-forwarding it, and so on – is easier with a traditional remote control. I'd like to see Chromecast support more living-room-friendly control devices for the parts of the TV watching experience that don't require much compute power (or brainpower).
The Google Cast SDK, which developers will use to build both sender and receiver apps for the device, is a bit worrying, too. The version 1.0 release notes claim, "You may not publicly distribute or ship your Google Cast application without written permission from Google," which suggests not so much a restrictive license as no real license at all. It's not entirely clear how much leeway developers have when building their apps, and although I've contacted Google for clarification of this policy, I've received no response.
And then there's the question of just how willing media companies will be to work with Google on streaming. Many will be eager, certainly. At the launch event, Android VP Sundar Pichai said Pandora would be the next service to gain Chromecast support, and a Hulu rep told The Reg via email that Hulu is "actively working with Google" to get Hulu Plus working with the tech.
But what about some of the other, larger players? Is Amazon likely to want to play ball in Google's court? Is Apple? What about Vudu, the video streaming company owned by Walmart?
The possibility that another company could emerge with a competitive technology to Chromecast seems high. The other big streaming media companies could do it, and so could equipment makers such as Roku or Sony. How that competition might affect Chromecast's ability to gain traction in the market is difficult to gauge, but it's sure to have an impact.
Still, Google has two big things going for it in this race, as in so many others. It has deep pockets and has demonstrated a willingness to learn from its mistakes. Google took a bath on the Nexus Q, its first attempt at a TV streaming device, pulling the plug and reducing the preorder price to zero less than two months after it was announced.
Its latest attempt, Chromecast, looks much more promising. Preorders reportedly sold out almost instantly, proving that Google's inexpensive two-inch dongle has captured the imagination of a great many consumers.
Whether Chromecast will achieve its full potential depends on many factors – but if you think the lack of bells and whistles on the dongle is its weakness, you'd better think again. Look past the cheap hardware and you'll see a streaming media technology that's very well thought out and has much to offer. The mistakes Google hasn't made with Chromecast are just as significant as the things it got right this time.
Given the number of missteps smart TV vendors have made so far, that alone makes Chromecast well worth watching – pun intended. ®