Late last week, Google unveiled Chromecast, attempt number three in their quest to conquer the living room after the wide-right foul ball that was GoogleTV and the wild swing-and-a-miss-and-thrown-bat that was the ill-fated Nexus Q. At just $35, Chromecast is certainly priced compellingly and it’s hard to find fault with its barely-there footprint. So, is this the winner that Google has been looking for?
I’m not so sure.
The Competitive Landscape
Realistically speaking, Chromecast is competing with Apple TV and Roku for space in your living room. Handily, Dan Rayburn of Frost and Sullivan recently published some statistics surrounding the streaming market, which provide a great metric for comparison:
Our report details sales numbers showing that Apple owned 56% of the streaming devices market in 2012, with Roku coming in second at 21% of the market.
Tivo is next with just 6.5% of the market and then “others” — comprised of a rag-tag assortment of several devices you’ve never heard of — split the remaining 15.9 percent.
Rayburn also fortuitously noted that “Google is conspicuous by its absence in this segment.”
That brings us to last week’s announcement.
Google needs to grab a sizable portion of the market in order to overtake either Apple or Roku in the streaming market and with Chromecast, it appears that they’re touting three key selling points in an effort to get there:
Anyone who has a laptop or a desktop (Mac, PC, or Chromebook) can Chromecast. Anyone with an Android device can Chromecast. Google promises that at some point in the near future, anyone with an iOS device will be able to Chromecast.
At first blush, this is indeed a compelling argument against an investment in Apple TV because Apple infamously curates a walled garden: If you want to stream from a smartphone, tablet, or computer to an Apple TV, you’re going to have to own a smartphone, tablet, or computer with an Apple logo on it.
Dig a little deeper, though, and the advantages aren’t quite so clear cut: Chromecast offers a wider swath of device compatibility, yes, but without one of those compatible devices, your $35 buys little more than a dust cover for a spare HDMI port. This means that Blackberry customers need not apply. Windows Phone? Nope. I’m not even sure if the Kindle Fire gets to play ball, given the forked-up state of Android on Amazon’s platform.
What about one-device households in which that one device isn’t always in the house?
An Apple TV works as a stand-alone device: Plug it in, run an HDMI cable to your TV, and everything you need to stream Netflix, YouTube, Hulu Plus, HBO GO, amongst others — not to mention the ability to rent or buy TV shows and movies — is right there on the device. If you have a high-speed internet connection, you can use the hell out of an Apple TV right out of the box. As a bonus, if you happen to have an iPhone or an iPad, an Apple TV provides far more streaming utility than Chromecast, even from an Android device.
There’s no two ways around it: $35 is an intriguing price for almost anything that requires a power plug, let alone a somewhat functional media streamer, and there’s no doubt that one “streaming device” at $99 is a tough sell against another “streaming device” at $35.
All that is to say: The Chromecast is priced to sell if you’re a not particularly observant comparison shopper who thinks all “streaming devices” are alike. Having read some of the early reviews, though, it seems to me that Chromecast is $35 because it provides at least $64 less value than an Apple TV.
It’s got Netflix, true, but what doesn’t these days?
There are no less than four devices currently plugged into my TV that offer access to Netflix, and a couple of them also stream YouTube videos. Netflix-capable devices are the new paper clip: You’ve probably got a couple of them laying around.
Ultimately, there’s little if anything a Chromecast can do that an Apple TV cannot do, and a lot of empty space and negotiating for content that Google still needs to do to in order to increase the value gap beyond a knee-jerk impulse buy for geeks.
Yes, $35 is a great price for a gadget if that gadget provides substantially more than $35 worth of value — but I’m not sure Chromecast gets there.
Ease of Use
Chromecast is quite a bit smaller than an already pretty small Apple TV, yes, but is it easier to use or set up? My post-announcement impression was that the Chromecast dongle was a self-powered device. This can be true, except when it’s not: Some newer televisions have HDMI ports that will provide power, but not all. (And not mine.) Some newer televisions have USB ports that will provide power via the included cable, but not all. (And not mine.) For everyone else, you’re left with pluggingin via a standard wall socket. Not a deal breaker, but not exactly the plug-and-play experience that Google touted, either.
The fact is, some of the neatest features of the $35 Chromecast call for the most current television models. For everyone else there’s the small print.
And, of course, after you’ve got the device plugged-in and powered-up, you’re directed to visit a website — necessitating the use of a companion device — just so that you can connect Chromecast to a WiFi network. Even if you assume that all of this is indeed super easy, there’s nothing about the process that is any easier than setting up an Apple TV which, again, is not a deal breaker but is contrary to Google’s hyperbole.
Perhaps Google will put out an infomercial-style pitch in which a clueless and unsuspecting Apple TV owner looks helplessly at an HDMI cable or struggles mightily with Apple’s remote while engaged in a constant struggle to reach the on-screen settings menu. But wait! Struggle no more as you effortlessly insert the pocket-sized Chromecast dongle and your TV auto-switches input and streams all your content like magic! Order in the next hour and you’ll get three months of Netflix — a $24 value — FREE! (PROBABLY!)
So, What Then?
Not long after it was announced, Gizmodo’s Brian Barrett announced that “you’d be crazy not to buy Google Chromecast.” Then, after the free-Netflix deal went extinct (which, let’s be honest, wasn’t all that long after Google announced Chromecast), Gizmodo updated that headline with the caveat of a “super sad update” and an excitement downgrade from “no-brainer” to “pretty good deal.”
So, who’s it for, then? If you own an iOS device, I’d say you’d be crazy to buy a $35 Chromecast instead of a $99 Apple TV.
If you own an Android device I’d say you have a compelling reason to read the reviews and find out if the value is there for what you’d use it for. Given Google’s history with television and content deals, though, I’d strongly encourage a few months of patience.
Here are some choice cuts:
Even within the apps that have already been tweaked for Chromecast compatibility, there are some day one bugs. Sometimes videos don’t play the first time you ask them to, instead dropping you into a never-ending loading screen. Other times, the video’s audio will start playing on top of a black screen. These bugs aren’t painfully common, but they’re not rare, either. - TechCrunch
There were some glitches with the other two apps as well. Google Play Movies froze while loading up one video, but we were able to remedy the issue by closing the app and trying again. The Netflix app also quit registering touch input during playback on several occasions when we allowed our device to enter standby mode. - Engadget
I tested free Hulu content, HBO Go, NBC, CBS, and Fox, all of which worked. The bad news is that limitations are obvious right away. Image quality ranges from mediocre to poor, mostly because Chrome is converting the video on the fly from your PC and sending it to the Chromecast. You’re also going to run into occasional (and sometimes frequent) dropouts — sometimes just audio, but sometimes the video pauses, too. And the feature itself isn’t entirely stable, so expect the extension to crash sometimes with Google throwing a quirky “brain freeze” message up on your TV. - CNET
Google gobbled-up a majority of the smartphone market because their partners — Samsung, primarily — blanketed the low-end with cheap, underpowered devices that millions of people use like feature phones.
They seem to be making a similar, albeit in-house, grab for the streaming-media market with Chromecast, but questions remain: Is the low-end juggernaut of the sizeable Android market looking to buy a media-streaming device (at any price) and — if not — is the high-end of the Android market formidable enough to overtake Apple for that top spot, or even move past Roku to emerge as a strong number two?
Perhaps, but that won’t make this first generation Chromecast any better as an investment.
Here’s how to do it:
Get in and then get the fuck out.
Hire great writers and great show runners and give them two seasons. Or three. Tell them they’ve got exactly that amount of time to tell a story with a beginning, a middle, and an end.
Here’s the important part:
Don’t be a dick and tell them they’re out of time at any point before the end and don’t be tempted to let popularity extend a show beyond the end.
Get in, get the fuck out.
Do this, and you’ll have two things:
- A constant supply of fresh content.
- Customer loyalty.
Number one is obvious. A clean exit strategy leads to more new content. Everything that inevitably goes bad about some of the best programming can be traced back to a lack of an exit strategy. Don’t fall into this trap.
It happened to Lost. It’s happened to virtually every sitcom that has ever aired on network television. Do not let it happen to your content.
Get in, get the fuck out.
Number two should be obvious but apparently isn’t. People aren’t giving new content a chance because at times it seems we’re more invested than the networks are. I’m tired of starting (and sometimes loving) content that won’t last beyond a few episodes, let alone an entire season. Don’t waste our time.
Commit and viewers will flock to your content.
Get in, get the fuck out.
This is your new mantra if you want to out-HBO HBO.
Samsung shifts strategy from copying Apple to copying the chutzpah of a company that Apple put out of business
TVs are ultimately about picture quality. Ultimately. How smart they are…great, but let’s face it that’s a secondary consideration. The ultimate is about picture quality and there is no way that anyone, new or old, can come along this year or next year and beat us on picture quality.
Responding to questions from New York Times correspondent John Markoff at a Churchill Club breakfast gathering Thursday morning, Colligan laughed off the idea that any company — including the wildly popular Apple Computer — could easily win customers in the finicky smart-phone sector.
“We’ve learned and struggled for a few years here figuring out how to make a decent phone,” he said. “PC guys are not going to just figure this out. They’re not going to just walk in.”
Waaaay back in 2006, IGN posted an article detailing what were (at the time) considered to be the Top 50 LOST Loose Ends. In retrospect, it’s a fascinating read for anyone who follows LOST, in part because most of the loose ends have actually been tied up (I was surprised by that) but primarily because LOST is a very different beast in 2010.