I’ve been thinking of buying a mediacenter for some time now. I’ve used a Raspberry Pi with XMBC for a while but I personally found it lacking in power. I also wanted to use it for other projects so I was left with two choices: the AppleTV and the Chromecast. To me these seem to be the best devices around. Although somewhat different their concepts were equally interesting to me. Aquiring physical Google-product in the Netherlands is not that easy. Cost, delivery time and warranty all suffer if you manage to order one. Before I could make up my mind myself I got a Chromecast as a present. The Chromecast is Google’s answer to devices like the AppleTV. It was released on the 24th of July 2013 and has been given the title Best product of 2013 by Digital Trends. Although I am happy with the product I want to elaborate a bit on how I think Google missed a big opportunity.
Google and product launches
Launches of new Google products tend to get a lot of attention, but mostly because of blogs, online magazines and social networks. This is enough to make a launch successful but sometimes results in weird situations like the current one. While being a remarkable device sold at a remarkable price($35), the Chromecast currently lacks functionality you might expect. While it’s great at streaming Netflix and Youtube, it doesn’t have much other uses for me. This is not because I’m only interested in those two things, it’s because there seems to be a severe lack of apps to use it with. Even the most basic ones are missing. For example: There is currently no way to send a picture from the default Gallery app to the Chromecast. Even though it is advertised as “The easiest way to enjoy online video and music on your TV.” I would expect such a functionality from a device like this. Personally I would also like the functionality to mirror my mobile’s or laptop’s screen. This is currently possible but not easily and without sound. They recently proudly announced the release of 10 new apps more information. This should give an indication of the limited functionality available at this time.
Google versus other developers
I can understand Google’s view of focusing on streaming services rather than the whole mediacenter functionality. It is, after all, a big part of their business. I can not understand they didn’t (at least try to) combine the two worlds. The reason for the lack of more functionality is pretty simple: the SDK hasn’t been released yet. As we can see with Androids play store, this makes a lot of difference in the amount of services available. Lacking a basic option like casting your pictures to the screen seems detrimental to the image of a device like the Chromecast. The release of the SDK is supposed to happen later, which (to me) seems to be a bit late. The gallery to Chromecast functionality has long been build with the beta SDK. Meanwhile, the 10 newly released apps include VEVO, Red Bull.TV and Viki. Nice additions but nowhere near as useful and essential for the useability as the gallery and device mirroring.
The Chromecast plugs into a TV by HDMI, this makes the TV relatively new, seeing as HDMI devices began to get popular in 2007 and people start replacing their televisions faster. This makes the chance of users having a smartTV significant. This makes it pretty probable that the users already has access to functionality like Youtube, Netflix and streaming pictures, just not with the easy controls a Chromecast offers. Try explaining to your mother why she should buy a $35 device to get a slightly different way to access the same functionality and the ability to watch Korean soaps. I have three theories on why this is. Firstly I think Google might have been too proud and enthusiastic about their product. I can image wanting to release a $35 mediacenter as soon as possible.
Status of the Chromecast
While the Chromecast seems to be successful and popular I think Google missed a big opportunity by delaying much of the expected functionality this much. This way Google didn’t get to use the initial hype to increase its popularity even further. Because of the upcoming SDK , price and ease of use it has the potential to be the most powerful and useful ‘mediacenter’. The delay in the added functionality of the SDK gives the competitor an awful lot of time to respond. All in all the current state of the Chromecast feels a bit like a Beta test or sneak preview. While I am happy enough about current functionality I could not recommend the Chromecast to friends, familymembers and strangers just yet. Maybe after the release of the SDK and the creative uses of the device that will no doubt come with it.