Thursday, July 25, 2013

Google's new Chromecast dongle sells out on Play Store

UPDATE: Several reviews have come out about the Chromecast. Since I haven't dedicated the $35 to purchasing one myself, I'll defer to David Pogue.

Chromecast: is it a game changer?  The public is eating it up.  It's definitely a game changer.  But to understand how it's going to affect things, you have to think about how Apple has been going about the same thing.  For years now, Apple has had a 'pet project' called AppleTV.  It has never been on the front line of Apple's advertising.  There have even been several analysts over the years that have predicted the doom of AppleTV.  Apple has persisted though without really highlighting AppleTV.  AirPlay was available through the iOS devices, but was mainly used for streaming music.  It was a cool feature but not a wave maker.

When the iPhone 5 and iPad 3 came out, they both had AirPlay, which meant that anyone who already had an AppleTV could mirror their screen to their big screen TV.  This was a significant event and clearly showed Apple's desire to get into the living room.  They've since released newer updated hardware and software for the little device.  You can watch Hulu, Netflix, HBO, and a bunch of other content, as long as your have an account.  Recently, an iOS game developer released a game that really doesn't work without mirroring.  It's a tennis game much like the game that comes with the Wii.  The difference is that you play with your phone as the controller using its internal accelerometers and gyroscopes to detect your motion.  The video is displayed on your phone, but that doesn't really work when you're swinging your phone around like a tennis racket.  However, if you mirror your phone to your AppleTV, you essentially get the same game that came with the first generation Wii.  This game opens the door for other games that can be built in the same way.  All the work is being done on the phone/controller in your hand, while the video is mirrored up to the big screen.  The next advance I expect to see from Airplay is the ability to mirror multiple devices to the same AppleTV.  Putting two people's phones' screens on a single TV gives multiplayer games a chance (imagine Mario cart but using your phone as the steering wheel).

Then Google released Chromecast.  It's 1/3 the cost of the AppleTV and seems to work across different platforms.  If you only look at the Chrome browser mirroring capabilities, this is huge.  All the things that can be done in a Chrome browser can now be done on a big screen TV while not requiring any extra remote controls much in the same was as Airplay does for Apple phones' screens.  While Chromecast appears to compete directly with AppleTV given all the current features, there's more to it than that.  AppleTV and Chromecast are on the same trajectory.  While Google was late to the phone game joining in only after Apple already had a tight grip on the market, they came to the table much sooner with Chromecast.  
The other major factor here is that Airplay for Apple iOS devices only works with mobile devices.  Chromecast promises to work not only using any mobile device but also PC computers with the Chrome browser installed.  This means that all the content that people currently consume using their PC can now be consumed on their TV.  This may not seem big, but given the cheap entry point, Chromecast could easily be used as a secondary monitor for every device in the house.  
On top of that, since Chromecast can mirror anything from the Chrome browser, much content that has had a hard time breaking into the living room now has a direct link.  For example, Hulu has two services, free and paid (Hulu Plus).  The paid service doesn't have much content that the free service doesn't.  There's a little, but it's not really what subscribers are paying for.  Hulu Plus subscribers have the ability to stream Hulu content on just about any device they can get their hands on.  Hulu free users can only get content through their browser (but not a browser on a mobile device).  With Chromecast, users can easily use the free Hulu service but still view it on their TV without hooking up a PC.  This means that Hulu will need to reevaluate what users are really paying for.  At $8 a month, a one time investment of $35 for Chromecast not only will pay for itself in 5 months, but will get me pretty much the same content with little extra hassle.
Yes, Chromecast is a game changer.  At $35, it's cheap enough to give it a chance even if it doesn't eventually work out.  It's not like the $99 investment in an AppleTV.