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Why Chromecast is such a big deal for Google, and a threat to Apple

Google (s GOOG) 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 (s AAPL) 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.

48 Responses to “Why Chromecast is such a big deal for Google, and a threat to Apple”

  1. The author clearly doesn’t understand Airplay or it’s capabilities. Completely clueless when he calls it an aging protocol. Google toy here does nothing Airplay shines at, like streaming media directly from your phone. If I have pictures or videos on my Phone and I want to beam them to a big screen TV for others to see, it’s a click away with Airplay. If I want to mirror my iPhone or iPad to a big screen, it’s a click away. If I want to play games on my big screen TV and use the iPhone as a remote (ala Wii) I can do that. I can also not only mirror my Mac’s screen to the TV, but use the TV as a SECOND screen as well!

    Next time, do your research, Janko. Otherwise, you come off looking like a jackass.

  2. Pretty hard to take the article too seriously with quotes like this, “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.” I have heard this same thing from a number of people talking about the Chromecast. I wish they did some even basic research before writing their articles.

    Airparrot – Works on Macs and PCs

    There are a bunch of Airplay apps for Android

    Airserver – Works on Macs and PC

    And many more.

    Airplay works on iOS, Mac, Android, and Windows and it took me all of 2 minutes to look it up.

  3. Darwin

    A video streamer with no 5 ghz or AC that only shows Netflix and a few Google channels. I doubt Apple or Roku are worried.

    Janko you know nothing about Airplay. Go do a search on Airplay speakers on Amazon., There are lots of non-Apple Airplay devices. Also you can in fact start Airplay on one device and change it on another.

    This is the state of GigaOm commentary these days. Hyped and flat-out out wrong articles.

  4. Bill James

    AppleTV is much more versatile, and as noted by others, most of us have found it is much better to use AppleTV (or similar devices) on a hardwired Ethernet connection.

    Especially when actually mirroring or streaming content from your device! If you are not careful, you may be creating TWO trips over WiFi (content from the Internet over Wifi into the handheld/laptop then streaming data FROM handheld/laptop back over Wifi to the display adapter device plugged into the TV).

    That’s why Chromecast has Netflix and Youtube capability built-in and the lack of most other applets a real deficiency.

    “Follow the Data” to see what is really going on and whether your handheld/laptop is merely a remote control or part of the continuous data stream for what you are viewing.

  5. Test User

    >>But it’s also an aging protocol, and it doesn’t have some of the
    >>advanced multiscreen features
    >>shown off by Google Wednesday.

    What are these multi-screen features? Is the talk about devices controlling? Can someone explain plz.

  6. cac1031

    I wish this had come out a few months ago before I bought a $60 Android stick to get internet content on my TV. I will definitely be purchasing the Chromecast device as the other is a pain to use for various reasons. I am most interested in the Chrome browser mirroring capabilities as I can’t get Netflix where I live. The Chromecast works in two different ways–streams directly from the internet with the apps that have been adapted (so far Netflix, Google Play and Youtube) and a still beta mirroring function with the Chrome browser. The former appears to work very smoothly while the latter is a bit more laggy and choppy according to early reviews. But it’s this second capability that is the real game changer as anyone that puts their content online for PCs and Macs, will not be able to avoid having it easily displayed on the TV as they’ve tried to do with Google TV (I realize you can do this now but most people don’t know about/bother with hooking up their laptops to the tube).

    • Darwin

      Requires Chrome. Somehow Janko acts as if only Apple has lock in when Google has as much or more.
      Do a Google search on Airplay devices and see all the many non-Apple Airplay devices.

  7. Thomas Olsen

    Nonsense. Look, the future of TV won’t be determined by whoever creates the next dongle. Content is king. Content determines who succeeds and who loses. Neither Google nor Apple has any control over TV content — and that’s by design. Producing content is expensive (so the bar is high), distributing it is controlled by monopolists. All that Google and Roku and Apple are doing here is fighting for scraps at the lowest possible layer, and hoping that, somehow, the means of producing and delivering TV content changes through some kind of unspecified miracle that they can’t really influence. Not to mention, why should I use this technology when many TVs and web-connected devices are moving to Miracast — a hardware agnostic means of projecting content onto remote screens? That’s seems like a more likely future on this layer.

  8. Mina Polos

    Looking at this device I think most people are missing that this is the iPod formula applied to the TV. What made the iPod so effective was that the complex task of curating and organizing your music was left to the computer which made it really simple and enjoyable to use an iPod. Most existing web TV devices suffer from complexity issues because its difficult to find and organize content using a remote. The setup of the Chromecast will allow you to easily find and play content on your TV without the hassle of fiddling with long Menus or complicated UIs. I still find Airplay to be a bit on the complex end for most basic end users since there is a pairing procedure and dealing with home networking. The Chromecast solves this by relying on the power of the cloud and the familiarity of most user with phones and tablets.

  9. As a Roku user, I don’t actually see this thing doing anything that the Roku does.

    You’ll need a device playing back content AND the Chromecast too. So that means a laptop or something tied up feeding TWiT for example. I’m not going to use my phone for that because, I dunno, I need my phone for other things and I don’t need to eat the battery playing video. Same with my tablet.

    On the other hand, my Roku is velcroed to the back of my TV and it just works. Never see it, never need to touch it. It just works, uses nearly no power, and does not tie up another device to do playback.

    So what if I want to watch something from my laptop or tablet or phone on the TV? This happens SO rarely that a plain old HDMI cable is all I need. But honestly I can’t even remember the last time I needed to do this.

    For what is worth, my GS3 phone can already fling video and photos to my TV wirelessly just fine and I have no idea how it even does that, since there is nothing on the TV specifically setup to receive it. Maybe it routes it through wifi to the Dish Hopper box. I dunno. But it works. Now. For free. And I still don’t need it.

  10. We will see if it works or goes the way of the Google TV, Nexus Q and Pixel. More competition is better, but I guess Google can stop with the whole “We innovate, not litigate” B.S. This is a complete “me too” from Google to compete with Apple and Roku. There is nothing innovative about this product.

  11. Another, “let’s put Apple in the headline to increase our hit rate” article.

    The thing is:
    If you have an Apple TV (with all the extra things it can do) are you going to buy one of these? No.
    If you buy one of these will you soon hit the wall and get frustrated? Yes.
    If so will you then buy an Apple TV? Depends on if you are an Android type user or an Apple type user…. Android type user = cheapskate, would never buy decent product anyway. Apple type user = would have bought Apple TV in the first place.

    Bottom line — threat to Apple? Only in the mind of this desperate blogger.

    • I have an Apple TV and most of my devices are Apple products so I don’t see the need for Chromecast in my household but there are people with a more heterogenous device environment who could definitely benefit from something like this. This is not just about Android and iOS. Even if you have Windows 8 or some flavor of Linux, you can use the Chrome browser to stream any kind of internet content to the TV. If you don’t have a streaming device already, the price makes it a no-brainer purchase.

    • Bottom line — threat to Apple? I’d say yes, looking how much Apple shares worth now ;)

      Typical ifan mentality – more expensive better… like a not so retina ipad compared to Nexus 7 and 10 :) :) :)

  12. hcitsltd

    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!

  13. Tim Acheson

    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.

    • 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.

  14. 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.

  15. 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.

  16. John S. Wilson

    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?

    • Tim Acheson

      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.

      • 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.

  17. 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?

            • 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.

  18. 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.

  19. keninca

    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?

  20. 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?

  21. 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.

    • hoosierthoughts1

      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?

      • 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.

        • 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.

    • Mcbeese

      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.

      • 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.