Google launched a new Chromecast feature Wednesday that might make you want to keep your TV on all the time: Cromecast’s new Backdrop feature allows users to customize the device’s home screen with their own photos as well as curated feeds of art, news photography, satellite photos and more. Backdrop also integrates with the Chromecast mobile apps, and could one day be used to display all kinds of information on the TV.
[company]Google[/company] first announced Backdrop at its Googele I/O developer conference in June, and it is now being made available to every Chromecast user over the next few days. Once users update the Chromecast configuration app on their phone or computer and their Chromecast streaming stick has auto-updated to the most recent firmware version, they’ll find an option to customize the imagery shown on their TV when Chromecast isn’t actively streaming any type of media.
Previously, this home screen was dominated by a selection of HDR-heavy nature photos. With Backdrop, users can opt to also add their own photos by linking the device to a Google+ photo gallery, or tap into streams of curated artworks and news photos from sources like the New York Times and the Guardian.
Backdrop is also capable of displaying the weather at a user’s current location, and actually offers some multiscreen interactivity: See a photo or work of art on your TV that you want to know more about? Now you can by simply asking the Google Now app “what’s on my Chromecast?”
It’s not supposed to be a Google Now dashboard
Chromecast Director of Product Management Rishi Chandra gave me a preview of Backdrop two weeks ago, and explained that Google tried to walk a fine line between adding more visual information and making it too overwhelming. Sure, some people would love to turn their TV into a Google Now-like dashboard, capable of displaying all their appointments, traffic and other alerts. “We just didn’t feel that felt right,” said Chandra.
Instead, the goal was to turn Backdrop into something that didn’t distract people from whatever they were doing. To do so, it was imperative to limit the amount of text displayed on TV. “You really have to lead with the images,” said Chandra, adding that the team also worked hard to make the transitions between individual images as smooth as possible, which included avoiding overly bright images that would change the overall level of light in the living room. The goal was not to force people to look up, said Chandra.
However, Chandra also said that the current selections of images are just a start for Backdrop. “We expect to add a lot more,” he said. One of the areas that the Chromecast team is exploring is personalization. Right now, users change their Backdrop preferences as a kind of global setting, but in the future, it could be possible to display different type of imagery based on the people present in the room, or display different types of photos on different TVs in the same household. Chromecast Product Manager Raunaq Shah also explained that the Backdrop feed model can easily be extended to add other types of imagery or even display other kinds of information.
Next up: a Nest integration?
That’s an interesting proposition for Chromecast, especially as Google is ramping up its presence in the connected home space. It’s easy to imagine, for example, that Chromecast could not only display local weather, but also the temperature of your Nest thermostat. We’ll have Chromecast VP Mario Queiroz at our Strucuture Connect Internet of Things conference, which is happening in San Francisco on October 21 and 22, and I’ll make sure to ask him about the role Backdrop will be able to play in the connected home.
For now, Backdrop can help to deal with the big black hole issue in our living rooms: We’ve all been buying bigger and bigger TVs, only to find that these huge screens actually look kind of ugly when they’re turned off. Said Chandra: “More and more, people are building their homes around this device.” So why not turn it into something nice to look at?