Tuesday, August 27, 2013, 2:31 PM ET|Posted by Will Richmond
I've been happily using my Chromecast both at home and on the road for 3 weeks now. Chromecast is not quite perfect, but it's an exemplary first version and no doubt destined to get even better. I think there are at least 6 things Google really got right with the device, as follows:
1. Simple yet sophisticated - Chromecast is the simplest connected TV device I've seen yet and can be easily used and understood by mainstream consumers. Just plug it into an HDMI port, power it, attach it to a WiFi network and you're ready to go in less than 5 minutes. And because Chromecast isn't "mirroring" video like Apple's AirPlay, but rather handling the stream itself, the mobile device that initiated the stream is free to do other things (including leave the room or be powered off). Chromecast cleverly leverages the power and UI of widely-deployed mobile devices, rather than replicating the expensive Smart TV approach of adding processing power to the TV itself. Importantly, Chromecast supports iOS devices, not just Android.
2. Low cost - At $35, Chromecast is also the lowest cost connected TV device available. Google has all but eliminated price as decision point for most consumers. Because of its low cost, Chromecast will quickly become the benchmark device in the market. Consumers will learn to ask "What does XYZ device do that Chromecast doesn't and why should I pay more for it?" Chromecast will be in the enviable position of being BOTH the low cost and best-featured connected TV device, a rarity for any product to achieve. In doing so, Google has put the squeeze on every competing device to figure out how to distinguish itself.
3. Sufficient mainstream content to get started - It's an axiom that devices don't sell themselves; rather it's the content they provide access to that motivates purchase. Here too, Google took a smart approach. Rather than holding up Chromecast's release until it had persuaded a large number of content partners to come onboard, it landed Netflix, the king of long-form subscription streaming and paired it with YouTube, the king of short-form streaming (Google Play for pay-per-use is included for good measure). That's plenty of content and brand appeal to entice consumers initially. No question plenty of other content providers will integrate with Chromecast soon as well, creating a nice content snowballing effect for users.
4. Content and developer-friendly - Content providers will be motivated to integrate for 3 reasons: first, because Chromecast will quickly gain a big user footprint, second, because Chromecast doesn't touch their revenue model and/or take a cut, and third, because the "Google Cast" SDK will allow content/app providers to quickly integrate with Chromecast (in theory anyway). In other words, it won't be a new platform to build to, requiring lots of resources. This is particularly friendly for content owners that don't have huge technical teams or deep pockets.
5. Portable - Chromecast is super-lightweight and as such makes a great travel accessory for streaming video to the big screen in a hotel room, friend's house, vacation rental, etc. I've used it this way on a number of occasions already and it's a very nice upside, especially for family viewing. There's no other connected TV device that offers Chromecast's portability benefit and I think it will get a lot more attention from both Google and in the media.
6. "Tab-casting" brings the whole web to the TV - Yet another strong attribute of Chromecast is the ability to "tab-cast" from the Chrome browser to the TV. So even though a content provider may not have yet integrated with Chromecast (to give the optimal viewing experience) a user can still stream from a web site / video player to the TV. The caveat here is that the quality isn't great; I found that Chromecast couldn't keep up with slow-rolling putts during the recent PGA Championship I watched. Beyond the world of video, tab-casting means users can display ALL web sites on the big screen so everyone can share the experience of choosing a movie or restaurant, looking at photos, etc. It really is the whole web on your TV, which is very cool.
The bottom line is that Google deserves huge credit for checking all the relevant boxes that a new connected TV device requires to succeed. Today's Chromecast is just a start too: as more content is integrated and new experiences are developed, its value proposition will only increase. Lastly, it wouldn't surprise me if Google further reduces Chromecast's price to something like $19.95 by the end of next year, as volumes build.
Google has opened a massive window for itself into the living room, with huge upside in apps and monetization. For sure there's plenty of disruption just ahead.