Google just took a big step to usher in a new era of increasingly “remote-less” homes, bridging mobile and laptop devices with your TV. In a surprise announcement, Google unveiled $35 device called Chromecast today that enables both Android and iOS devices to play HD video on TV sets. With just a tap of the “Cast” button, you can extend video from YouTube, Google Play and Netflix straight to any TV equipped with a Chromecast — which plugs into a HDMI port.
Google also unveiled a SDK for developers to equip their apps — both Android and iOS — to instantly extend video to the TV set. “We’re paving the way for many more apps to come,” Google said, adding that Pandora will soon include Chromecast support. In a way, this turns your mobile phones, tablets and laptops into mini set-top boxes, extending video from the apps you already use to your TV set without touching your remote control. “TV is no longer device-dependant but viewer-dependant,” is how Jeff Jarvis puts it.
Apple has offered AirPlay for the last couple years, but Chromecast blows it out of the water. First, it’s cross-platform. Second, it supports multitasking: you can play a clip on YouTube via your phone, then jump over to Gmail and the clip continues to play on TV. And third, it syncs across devices: for example, play “House of Cards” on your Netflix iPhone app, then leave the room. Then another viewer can open her Netflix app on her Android phone, and it syncs automatically, enabling her to control the playback with interruption.
Google offered a social TV scenario of friends gathered in the living room, “casting” their favorite YouTube clips to the TV set seamlessly from their phones. You can also create a “TV Queue” — essentially a playlist for TV — straight from YouTube.com or your YouTube app. Of course, this all feeds into YouTube’s efforts to tap into TV-like advertising dollars.
Google is also building the Chromecast functionality into the Chrome browser (currently in beta), which enables you to “cast” your browser straight to TV.
And let’s not forget the price: $35, which is “affordable enough to connect every TV in your home,” Google said. Chromecast is now available to buy on Google Play, Amazon.com and BestBuy.com, shipping early next month. People who are not Netflix subscribers will get three free months by buying a Chromecast device.
Chromecast has the potential of surpassing Google TV’s reach quickly, especially if Chromecast technology is integrated into TV sets without requiring the purchase of an external device. In fact, I think it’s clear that Chromecast is a substantially bigger innovation than Google TV, connecting second screens with the first screen with a simplicity that has never been accomplished before.