Unveiled today, the $35 list price Google Chromecast device is going give big headaches to Apple, Microsoft, TiVo, and the hospitality industry. I'm also willing to bet it gets some software and hardware development going.
Google Chromecast provides a simple way to stream online content directly to any TV with an HDMI connection – which translates to nearly any flat screen set that's shipped in the past five years. The low--cost fob, a little bit larger than a stock USB storage device, plugs directly into an HDMI port. Configure it to connect with the local Wi-Fi network; fire up a supported app on Apple iOS, Macintosh, Android or Windows; press/click the "Cast" button; select the TV; start playing and content streams directly to the TV.
The Chromecast device is a stand-alone gizmo that takes direction from the app on your device of choice – phone, tablet, PC, laptop, etc. – to select content, start and stop play, and control the volume. Once you've got Chromecast doing its thing on the TV, you can switch to other apps without breaking a sweat or placing a compute load on your device.
Chromecast won't mirror a device display, but developers are getting a new Google Cast SDK to enable other media types beyond streaming. I can imagine there will be PowerPoint display apps in short order. Netflix sits front and center among the supported content providers along with YouTube and the Google Play store, with Pandora's music streaming service and others in the pipeline.
At $35, with three months of free Netflix service thrown in per device, Chromecast is cheap enough to deploy on just about any TV. Compare that to Apple TV at $99 with some of the annoying quirks I've seen trying to mirror an iPad on a TV screen. Apple's AirPlay is more polished at this point, but it also is more complicated, requiring password entry to iTunes and there's always another upgrade to be downloaded.
Microsoft will be annoyed because Windows RT and Phone isn't on the supported OS list. Given that iOS and Android hold over 90 percent of the mobile device market according to some reports, this shouldn't be a big surprise. Since Microsoft already has a footprint in the living room through the XBox game console, there won't be any panic in Redmond, but the Windows mobile device guys have to be looking at Chromecast and thinking about a simple "Clonecast" device for putting content on HDMI screens. Yes, there's a lot of WiFi-this-and-that mumbo-jumbo floating around for HDMI, but it hasn't really taken off.
TiVo has to be looking over its shoulder. It wants $150 for a basic DVR plus $15 a month for monthly service (this reminds me I need to cancel and go through the pain of trying to get upsold for a "lifetime" subscription at $500 a device), and $99 for a Mini to playback content recorded on a DVR unit.
Chromecast will support just about every third-party streaming service TiVo does, plus provide cloud playback of content bought on Google Play's store. Add Netflix and TiVo fees together, multiple by 12, and something has to give.
Finally, let's talk about the hospitality industry -- hotels. In theory, I should be able to take a Chromecast, plug it into the room TV, get it to talk to the local WiFi, and start streaming away. Or I should be able to alternatively use a 4G phone/hotspot to bypass the local WiFi and pay TV options all together, but that means data out of my pocket.
The hospitality industry already has challenges providing adequate WiFi and broadband connectivity. Throw some ChromeCast guests on top of a hotel network and it'll drag down the whole thing -- not a pretty sight.
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