Google Chromecast follows Apple TV in doing the living room right

Google Chromecast follows Apple TV in doing the living room right

Summary: Google Chromecast is a little stick that you put in your television to make it better. It might be a really good idea...

TOPICS: Emerging Tech
Chromecast loves TV
Awww. It's love, basically. That's what it is. Chromecast loves your TV. And your tablet. And your smartphone. And probably you too.

Amazon has the Google Chromecast listed as a "HDMI streaming media player", but it's way more than that.

It's a very clever little device that shows how to do the living room right.

Last month I wrote a piece called "How Apple does not care about your living room". The idea behind this piece is that all those companies that are desperately trying to push complex technology to modify the main television in the living room are rather missing the point.


The living room isn't as important as it once was. This isn't the 1960s where we all cluster round and spend all our time as a happy little nuclear family in one place.

The home is now a place where we consume content through mobile devices wherever we happen to be inside it. Increasingly, we're spending more time away from broadcast television, plus more time relating to others through social networking services. Sitting down and actually watching TV together is happening less.

In that context it makes far more sense to invent a little device that can somehow improve every television in the house in some way. Which is exactly what Chromecast is. Spend $35, somehow work out how to get power to it, somehow set it up, and your existing TV is a little bit improved.

I'm a big fan of Apple TV, not necessarily because it's any good (it's "just OK" implementation-wise), but because Apple has managed to invade living rooms in a totally stealthy way. There's nothing flashy or complex about Apple TV -- it's just a little box that lets you play content you buy from iTunes, or Netflix, and do some other things.

Like Chromecast, it's not clever or flashy. It's cheap, and it makes the television that it's connected to a little bit better. A small improvement.

Compare this to Xbox One, which is designed from the perspective of doing an "HDMI pass-through". In this arrangement, the Xbox One drives an existing cable TV box in order to get live content on the screen. Presuming people still watch live TV. Which they're increasing not preferring on-demand, pick-and-choose-whatever style consumption. Plus, the Xbox One experience will be forever irreparably broken by the fact that the last thing the cable TV companies want is Microsoft (or anyone) sitting in the middle of their channel reducing the amount of direct customer they have with their customers.

Xbox One is, classicly, overly engineered, and technologist-led. It's not a simple, cheap device that makes a television set a little bit better.


I subscribe to the school of thought that the post-PC devices that we are enjoying today are rooted in work done as part of the "ubiquitious computing" movement. Often shortened to "ubicomp", I've written about this before, as has my ZDNet colleague Simon Bisson: "Post-PC, or just the return of ubicomp".

The basic idea of ubicomp is that you have simple devices always around you that you use to easily access your "digital life". A smartphone is a good example of a ubicomp device. For example, you might be out with the kids, you'll take a photo of it and share it on Instagram. The thing that you're doing is playing with the kids. You access a ubicomp device (your smartphone) to take the photo and then share the photo on your social network.

The man who spearheaded the ubicomp movement, Mark Weiser, saw that ubicomp would have three types of devices. Specifically, "tabs", "pads", and "boards". Tabs are what we call smartphones. Pads are what we call tablets (or even "iPad"). Boards, however, are missing.

In ubicomp, the different devices are defined by their size. Tabs are supposed to be "wearable", pads are supposed to be "decimetre-scale", and boards are supposed to be "metre-scale". (Wearable in a ubicomp context applied to the reality of what the market has provided today really means "hyperportable" -- i.e. so small you take it with you everywhere.)

In domestic settings, we have metre-scale "things", and we happen to call them television sets. But they're not very smart. They just take a signal and translate it. Manufacturers have tried to make the TV smarter -- like Samsung with it's Smart TV app catalogue, although rarely people consume this smartness.

This is classic technologist thinking. People don't want apps that they can run on their TVs. It has to be a "little better", as opposed to being so different is actually gets in the way of doing what the TV is good at -- i.e. presenting content to people sitting in front of it.

What the Chromecast lets you do is take content from anywhere and "throw" it up onto any television set in the home. This simple little device could be what "disrupts" the normal television set and changes it into a ubicomp board.

That's a simple, cheap change. What it does is allow the user to take the smartphone and tablet that they already love, and get a better experience by being able to see it's content up on the big screen. Both of these devices are limited by the size of the screen.

That would then give us the full set -- tabs, pads, and boards, and seeing as post-PC and ubicomp are tied at the hip it changes the nature of the television set and turns it into a post-PC device.

So what?

What the Chromecast does, and devices that will follow it will do, is extend out the world that we love of smartphones and tablets, not require us to change the way in which we use them, and then improves the experience. This $35 piece of kit changes that dynamic, but within the sphere of being in a post-PC world. This is all done in an gentle, organic way.

That approach always seems to play better in the post-PC world. Deep, technology-led thinking and complex products driven by technologists tend not to do well out there. (Surface RT, for example).

Simple, easy to grasp ideas that nudge the story gently on seem to do much better. Apple TV is like that, for example.

So will Chromecast be a big thing? I don't know. But I can see how it might augur a new device category that ushers in some very positive changes.

What do you think? Post a comment, or talk to me on Twitter: @mbrit.

Topic: Emerging Tech

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  • Xbox one.

    How can you slam the xbox one so, when it does everything the chromecast can do, and more? Sure its expensive, but its also a games console.
    • slam?

      He said that its not simple or cheap. You grandmother is not going to buy/use an Xbox one. And I'm not going to hook an xbox one to every tv in the house.
      • Grandmother...

        "You grandmother is not going to buy/use an Xbox one. And I'm not going to hook an xbox one to every tv in the house."

        Is your grandmother any more likely to buy an Apple TV or Chromecast? Mine isn't, and last I saw, most Apple TV customers own exactly one device and multiple TVs.
        • Re: most Apple TV customers own exactly one device and multiple TVs

          I don't know a single one who does that. They either have an Apple TV for each TV, or several Apple TVs for one TV.

          Might be, everyone you know is a technologist and prefers one or more Xbox-es per TV instead?
    • Because it's his "schtick".

      Wait for some technology to be introduced, compare it to the "wrong" alternate MS product, get people to post.

      It's his game now, plain and simple. But then this is the guy that wrote how fantastic Nexus Q and Google TV is compared to the XBox360.

      He needs to make it all about MS, or nobody bothers replying to his post, which means no money, no future.
      William Farrel
    • Because it's an April Fool's joke that is waiting for a (humorous) comeback

      XBone is big and clunky, and makes your living room look cluttered. Chromecast, on the other hand, (like Roku) hides behind your television set, and (an added bonus) draws less power. Plus, we both know Xbox 360's "Red Ring" reputation, so that might scare consumers off.
      Richard Estes
      • I have a suggestion:

        It might be better for you to stop back and post when you have something that even you feel is genuinely believable.
        John Zern
      • not to forget

        Xbox is way too expensive for use as streaming device.
  • You Can't See "The Clouds" At Night

    Cloud-based computing is killing my internet experience--especially during peak usage times. Already I see massive slow-downs of internet speed--presumably because of the increased load by users streaming high-bandwidth applications like movies and U-Tube. A mass market gizmo like the Chromecast dongle which is all about streaming multimedia-intensive data from the The Cloud have the potential to quickly overwhelm an already struggling internet infrastructure.
    Al Smith
    • I guess more of an issue with cable modems than...

      DSL modems. But you also have things like FIOS which have more than enough capacity. However, devices like this will prompt service providers to upgrade their systems. It's just a matter of time.
      • Cable/DSL modems...

        "I guess more of an issue with cable modems than...DSL modems."

        Well, back in 1998 it was, anyway. Most Cable internet technology has moved beyond that whole "shared bandwidth" problem long ago. The pinch in bandwidth is now being felt in the real internet backbones - further upstream than where you'd find cable or DSL technology involved.
  • Blind hatred

    This sounds like someone is confused. Your boy AKH wrote an article recently about how XBox and AppleTV are NOT I'm the same category. Please regroup the troops of MS haters to have a unified message. I would imagine that this devices would appear on that same chart as AppleTV that video game consoles, PS3 and Wii, were left off...just like they were left out of your rant. Not very hard to tell your strategy for amateur blogging.
    • breathe in and out, in and out...

      Xbox One is in the same category if you view it as the Microsoft's weapon in the battle for the proverbial living room. And from that standpoint it is not looking good. People are not going to buy 2, 3, or more xboxes. Non-gamers may not even buy just one. Simply because you have to pay several hundred upfront and then $50 a year to be of any use in the living room.

      So MS better watch out and start working on Chrome-less-cast
  • not good...:-(

    check more details here
    Jagmandeep Singh
    • Not Good? How so?

      What are you talking about? And that site is horrible. Looks like it was put through auto English translation software.
  • Why should I buy this if I already have a console hooked up to my TV?

    Xbox One and Sony can do this easily. This product is a complete waste of money if you are going to own an Xbox one or a PS4.

    See, what you are clueless about is that you think the Xbox One sucks because of Apps, but you can put those apps on your tablets and phones and since the software is on there you can do the reverse. It's software driven.

    What you haven't figured out though is that you can do all of this without changing a single input on your TV with the Xbox One and that my friends is huge.

    With this, you have to pay $35 and then you have to hook it up to an AVAILABLE HDMI port in the back of your TV and then you have to hit input on your remote to get to that AVALIABLE or WASTED HDMI port.

    So, lets recap shall we. I can watch a bluray movie, play a game, watch my satellite TV Shows, push content to my mobile devices (smartphones, tablets, etc...) and I can also push my content off my mobile devices to my TV all wireless all on ONE TV INPUT.

    That is not even mentioning Microsoft's entry into Interactive TV or their own digital content beyond TV that they will be delivering.

    Yeah, you guys need to learn about technology and how it works, because you are behind the times.
    Planet KIller
    • Just too cool for me...

      Well your obviously just too cool for me to have that neat little Xbox..... Not all of us are gamer nerds like you and we can't afford to sit infront of the TV all day and play games. I have what you call a job, and a life.... Something like this is perfect for us non /
      CaPS CoRReCT
      • Gamer nerds

        The gamer nerds comment hits the spot. I neither have nor desire a Playstation, Wii, or Xbox, and own one not-so-new TV set (which will require a HDMI to DVI adapter) so a Chromecast would provide significant new capabilities at minimal cost.
        • yeah i moved out of my parents basement,

          so it was time to get rid of the gaming console and concentrate on real life. this device or apple tv will do just fine, although it will be interesting to see apple's reaction.
    • 1 room or only 1 tv in your house?

      I was under the impression that your xbox one (that you don't have yet) plugs into 1 tv? We have 4 in our household, how pray tell does an xbox one help us? Should we transport the xbox one around to each room or should we just decide who's going to stream to the one tv with xboxone?
      Oh wait, I see, we should spend £1600+ kitting out each room with an xbox rather than £550+ for an xbox and 3 chromecasts.

      Yeah you guys need to learn you are not the only usage scenario. Some of us utilise more than our mum's basement. Step outside your own little space once in a while and understand that you probably aren't even typical based on the number of xbox's sold to the number of homes in the world.
      Little Old Man