"'I'd like to create an integrated television set that is
completely easy to use,' he told me. 'It would be seamlessly synced
with all of your devices and with iCloud.' No longer would users
have to fiddle with complex remotes for DVD players and cable
channels. 'It will have the simplest user interface you could
imagine. I finally cracked it.'"
This is an excerpt from Walter Isaacson's biography of
) co-founder Steve Jobs. In it, Jobs makes the briefest of mentions
to the mythical television set that has been rumored to be on the
precipice of release for years now. And giving it the stratospheric
hype that only the CEO of Apple could give, Jobs claims he's
"cracked" the code to an unbelievably simple way in which users can
operate an integrated TV.
However, it would seem that
) has now cracked that code before Cupertino could make good on
Last week, Google unveiled three products in a press event that was
much more low-key than its annual I/O conference. It debuted
Android 4.3, the new Nexus 7 tablet, and an odd little device
called Chromecast. And of the three products, the most unassuming
garnered the biggest reaction.
Chromecast is a small, two-inch dongle that can be plugged into the
HDMI port on an high-definition television (HDTV) and stream
) content directly to the set. Users can also mirror websites,
images, and video displayed in their Chrome Web browsers onto the
screen with a simple extension. The Chromecast has no dedicated
remote control and is instead controlled by any number of Android,
iOS, Mac, or PC devices on the same Wi-Fi network.
But arguably, the best feature is its price: $35.
People went nuts for the Chromecast. The device sold out almost
immediately, buoyed by a limited-time offer of three free months of
Netflix, which effectively dropped the price of the Chromecast to
$11. Although the extremely feature-light dongle didn't have much
in the way of whiz-bang specs, its simplicity, operability, and
rock-bottom price point proved to be all that was needed to whip
customers into a frenzy.
And not a moment too soon.
The media center arena has been in desperate need of a device to
shake up the industry as it languishes in a holding pattern with
unexciting product lines and woefully safe features. Apple TV and
Roku boxes have been the lowly kings of the anthill and, despite
delivering solid performances, they feel wholly lackluster in a
field that should have killed off cable subscriptions long ago.
Even the latest rumor of the elusive Apple television set -- that
automatically delete commercials from a live
-- seems boring and antiquated for an industry that already has
commercial-free programming in the way of Netflix, iTunes, and
Google Play store.
And the less said about the botched handling of Google TV, the
better. Although I've called the Boxee Box
the most frustratingly broken and bug-ridden
I've ever had the displeasure to own, Google TV doesn't fare much
better as a media device, and customers who bought into that
service deserve a product that delivers on its promise as soon as
it's plugged into a TV.
So imagine the surprise of users and analysts to see Google deliver
a media device that not only made good on its promise of simplicity
and function, but also generated frothing excitement to boot. Very
few, if any, pieces of Google hardware have sparked such an
immediate and red-level response from users. Seemingly, not even
Google expected the demand to be as high as it was, judging from
its hasty and unfortunate cancellation of free Netflix service for
customers who purchased the Chromecast after its first day of sale.
But the demand isn't only good for Google, it's good for the
industry. Although Chromecast debuted with limited content
partnerships, the unforeseen flurry of excitement has drummed up
interest from a bevy of companies, greatly expanding the short list
of future partners that Google mentioned during the event. Already,
(OUTR), Hulu, Vevo, Vimeo, Songza, TWit.TV, and Plex have each
hinted at or outright expressed forthcoming support.
This partnership scramble stands in stark contrast to the
difficulty and very public frustration both Google and Apple had
when finagling deals with content producers during their respective
device launches. And while the companies originally had to sort out
messy business like live broadcast integration and profit sharing
to get their products off the ground, Chromecast eschews most of
those headaches and just streams existing services outside the box,
so to speak, while being controlled by other devices.
And therein lies the code-cracking.
When Steve Jobs spoke of the "simplest user interface you could
imagine," he might have been referring to the very same UI that
Google delivered for Chromecast. As mentioned before, the product
comes with no dedicated remote control and connects to the many
devices one normally has by their side when watching TV. In fact,
any device on the Wi-Fi network can operate the Chromecast, which
makes party viewing far more enjoyable than passing remotes or
huddling around a laptop. What could be simpler?
The Chromecast isn't the most feature-laden device in the field,
but it's one of the most user-friendly, celebrated, and -- most
importantly -- cheapest. As it stands, the product is well worth
its price and, if demand and future partnerships are any
indication, it's promised to only get better.
It's still up in the air if Apple will deliver an actual television
set that "cracks" the code in the way Jobs had in mind. But if
there was one code that
to be cracked, it was to how to finally inject excitement into the
media center industry.
And Google beat Apple to the punch.
Google Shakes It Up With Chromecast
Microsoft Corporation Is Doing Well Where It
Counts, Poorly Everywhere Else
What If Google Were to Go Dark?