Chromecast may look like Google’s cheaper answer to AirPlay. But in the end, this is all about the future of pay TV.

chromecast art2

Google officially launched its next big idea for the living room Wednesday, and the cast of people presenting the new product dubbed Chromecast at the company’s breakfast event in San Francisco looked awfully familiar: The product was introduced by Google VP of Product Management Mario Queiroz, and demonstrated by Director of Product Management Rishi Chandra. Both executives have been heading Google TV — that other foray into the living room that didn’t fare so well. So why should things be different this time around?

Chromecast wasn’t just demoed by Queiroz and Chandra. The product has been developed by the very same people who have been working on Google TV for the past few years. But it looks like they have learned from their mistakes, and radically simplified the experience. Gone are the attempts to integrate existing pay TV offerings, recruit app developers for yet another medium and ship devices with hideous, complicated remote controls.

Like Google TV’s better-looking cousin

Instead, Chromecast is pure simplicity: Search and discovery of video content is happening on the mobile device or laptop, and all Chromecast does is stream media from the cloud. Add to that the ability to turn on your TV simply by starting video playback on your tablet, and you’ve got something that looks a bit like the anti-Google TV.

I asked a Google spokesperson about the relationship between the two products today, and got a somewhat diplomatic answer:

“Chromecast offers an alternative solution to existing non-connected HDTVs with a simple and affordable device. We believe there is ample room for both products to exist and succeed.”

In fact, there are some indications that both Google TV and Chromecast — and even Google’s quickly nixed Nexus Q device — share a lot of the same DNA. The Nexus Q first introduced the idea of an AirPlay-like playback experience for media on Google’s products, and the company has been working on bringing some of that same functionality to Google TV. The company partnered for some of the building blocks with Netflix, which is why it is no surprise that Netflix was one of the first apps to make use of Chromecast.

So what about AirPlay?

image_5Of course, the real point of comparison for Chromecast isn’t Google TV, but Apple TV with its AirPlay feature. The simplicity of AirPlay is what Chromecast is modeled after, for a reason: Apple has sold some 12 million Apple TVs, making it by far the most popular dedicated video streaming device, with a 56 percent worldwide market share.

However, AirPlay also has its downsides. For one thing, it only works with Apple products, of which there are admittedly quite a few in consumers’ hands. But it’s also an aging protocol, and it doesn’t have some of the advanced multiscreen features shown off by Google Wednesday.

Chromecast synchronizes media playback across multiple devices, making it possible for you to launch the playback of a Netflix movie on your TV with the help of your phone, then turn off that phone and launch the app on your iPad to pause the movie. That’s simply not possible with AirPlay today, and it puts pressure on Apple to add more features.

In the end, it’s about the future of pay TV

The real issue however isn’t how the the Chromecast product introduced this week stacks up against Apple’s current-generation Apple TV. These products are just the first step towards a future in which both companies could be offering their own pay TV services over the internet to compete with traditional cable and satellite TV offerings.

It’s been reported that both have been in negotiations for such a service, and from a business perspective, both face the same hurdles, namely the unwillingness of programmers to give up on bundles, and the attempts by cable companies to block new competitors from entering the market. All of which could mean that it will be quite some time until either will be able to offer such a service to consumers.

But everyone in the TV industry believes that these kinds of online pay TV services are inevitable. And when they finally get ready to launch, having direct relations with consumers, and devices in their households, is going to be critical.

Until now, it looked like Apple TV was winning this race. But with Chromecast, Google has a real shot for the first time.

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  1. Actually you’re incorrect about AirPly’s capabilities. I can indeed begin a Netflix movie on my iPhone and then pause it with my iPad. I can pause it with the AppleTV as well. This seems like a parity product, albeit a nicely priced one.

    1. hoosierthoughts1 Brian Wednesday, July 24, 2013

      It was stated above that airplys only works with apple products. You also listed apple products so they would work with airply I’m not sure where this is information is incorrect?

      1. The article said that with the Chromecast you could “launch the playback of a Netflix movie on your TV with the help of your phone, then turn off that phone and launch the app on your iPad to pause the movie. That’s simply not possible with AirPlay today.”

        Brian pointed out that that’s not true. I don’t have an AppleTV so I’ll defer to him, but that’s the point he addressed.

        1. The statement “That’s simply not possible with AirPlay today” is incorrect. You can control AppleTV using the free app “Remote” for both iPad and iPhone.

          ….But not with an non-IOS device.

    2. Part of the problem, which I have seen steadily since the announcement yesterday, is that Chromecast is being compared with airplay, not with the full capability of AppleTV. Airplay is the ability of iOS mobile devices and Macs to push content to AppleTV. However, these same devices can also play content directly from the Internet to Apple TV, just like Chromecast, including Netflix, YouTube, ESPN, podcasts, etc.. The content play on AppleTV can easily be started by one device and then picked up by another device.

      Kudos to Google for the multivendor support and compact and inexpensive form factor. However, one of the things I learned in my experiences with Apple TV, is that direct ethernet connection is far preferable to a Wi-Fi connection for a premium video streaming experience.

      1. There are all kinds of devices that can play Netflix and YouTube and such to your TV. Your TV itself may already be able to do this, and if not that, perhaps an XBox, PS3, Roku, BluRay player, TiVo, etc. This is not exactly a differentiating feature anymore.

        ChromeCast solves a different problem: I have some media I just found on my phone/tablet/PC, and I want to throw it up onto my TV screen. AirPlay can do this like a champ if the device you’re holding in your hands is an Apple device, but ChromeCast does the trick for nearly every device — the only major exceptions are Kindle tablets, Windows phones, and Blackberries.

  2. Great article Janko. I have to say the Chromecast is a very interesting device. What interests me the most is how will chrome extension evolve to support this type of usability?

  3. If Apple stopped selling Apple TVs tomorrow, their revenue and profits would hardly notice. However, the company that is most likely to be really hurt by Chromecast is Roku. Instead of paying Roku a fee to get their channel on the Roku player, all they have to do now is offer a free app to run on Android, which they might already have. And at that point, why buy a Roku box?

    1. Roku has the advantage that you don’t need to have a smartphone or tablet to view videos. Just the roku remote which will always be available

      1. True, but many people already watch videos over the internet with their phone or tablet right next to them.

  4. Why would I launch a Netflix show on my iPhone and then switch it to my IPad? Why wouldn’t I just start it on my IPad that also has streaming to my AppleTV. Better yet, why wouldn’t I just use either my iPhone or IPad as a remote control for my AppleTV to start Netflix. Apple is very careful with it’s functions to keep things simple. If anything, Apple may have provided too much flexibility in their AirPlay that tends to complicate the device for Novices.

    Google, is continuing to copy Apple at every turn which is great for competition. However, by not making money selling hardware Google is at a significant disadvantage in this competition. I am heavily invested in the Apple Eco system. I will only switch if Google overs a significant advantage. A hybrid approach for the Eco system is not in my best interest. I would switch if I see an advantage, but Google is so far behind Apple in providing the complete package. Sony use to be my main source for electronics but they are not the same since there founder died. Apple has replaced Sony and so far are still doing very well since the loss of Steve Jobs.

    1. True — this is all just “me too” from Google, with trivial gimmicks and a lot of hype.

    2. and Apple’s founder is alive?

  5. If I understood this correctly, chromecast shouldn’t be compared with AirPlay. AirPlay streams whatever you are playing in your device to the TV through the local network, internet content or LOCAL content (movies in your computer). Meanwhile, Chromecast only plays internet content from internet (not your device). Right?

    1. Actually, you can play local content through a Chrome tab, so playback of local content isn’t a problem.

      1. Joan J. Guerra Makaren Joe Thursday, July 25, 2013

        How am I supposed to play a movie in my hard drive in a Chrome tab?

        1. Drag the movie into a chrome tap. Try it.

          1. All it did was download the movie (make a copy) from it’s currently location to the Downloads folder.

            1. And if you click on the ChromeCast icon and try to drag a local file, it does this cool trick where it crashes.

              Yes, I think the ChromeCast is a pretty cool device for $35. I have one and would gladly recommend one to friends, BUT, it does not replace my AppleTV. Yes, it doesn’t have apps or a remote interface like an AppleTV or Roku, that is well known, but it keeps being compared to AirPlay, and in all honesty, it really is only similar to ONE feature of AirPlay.

              It does not support mirroring like AirPlay does, so this means that, the ONLY thing that I can throw from my computer to my screen is a Chrome browser window, but with AirPlay, I can extend my monitor to my 70″ Sharp TV. Anything that happens on my screen (Chrome browser, VLC, QuickTime player, Microsoft Power Point, the desktop, games) will all display on the TV.

              So think of ChromeCast as a very basic subset of features of an AppleTV. A very important feature, but it’s not going to kill the AppleTV, or even harm it’s sales.

  6. John S. Wilson Wednesday, July 24, 2013

    This is humorous. When Google TV came out it was supposed to herald the future of Google taking over the living room. Now it’s pretty much a joke and barely anyone supports it. So it Google couldn’t succeed when TV manufacturers literally opened their arms to them, what makes us think Google will succeed now simply by releasing a me-too product that has less features than Roku or Apple TV?

    1. Not forgetting Xbox 360 which already brings YouTube and Netflix etc to TVs, Smartglass, etc.

      Ultimately, “Chromecast” is just a wireless display output. You don’t even need Chromecast to do that.

      1. Xbox is not bringing anything unless you pay a monthly fee.
        + for 35$ and 3 months of Netflix it’s cheaper than anything else on the market.

  7. Pretty funny – worrying about an aging protocol. A silly criticism in almost any corner of the tech world; but, especially foolish when we’re a few months away from iOS7 – which will include additions to AppleTV, no doubt.

    Not a criticism of Chromecast – even if it sounds as if it was named by Bob Hope. But, Janko, you should know better.

  8. One interesting thing about chromecast is that it could be used tons pirated content unless Google blocks it, and Google could decide to be lazy about it for some time. if cast becomes very popular, it would give Google immense power over content providers.

    So it would be interesting to watch.

  9. So, it’s just an output to a display, wirelessly. Too much hype.

    We already have YouTube and Netflix on TV and more. E.g. Xbox 360. Google is also copying SmartGlass.

    1. The biggest difference is you have to spend $200 for the Xbox, as well as an Xbox live subscription. If you don’t play video games, that’s a lot to pony up just to watch netflix and youtube. This is just $35.

  10. You gotta laugh … The slightest suggestion of ANY sort of criticism of Apple products and the Apple devotees are all straight to the coat cupboard for their anoraks! HAHAHAHAHA!
    Chromecast sounds like the perfect ($35) solution to get my HDMI non-WiFi-enabled TVs web-enabled … My kids will love this and we don’t have to get a bank loan to finance a range of over-priced, over-hyped Apple gear!

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