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August 1, 2013

5

Google Chromecast: a first step in cracking the Smart TV

by Paul
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Released barely a week ago, the Google Chromecast is making a lot of headlines in the tech world. Although many people are pointing out the limitations, I believe that Google may have actually just made the first step in cracking the the Smart TV problem.

(Disclaimer: Before I write a blog post, I normally like to have done a lot of research and have all of my facts straight.  Being in Ghana it is is obvious that I have not actually gotten my hands on one of these to try it out.  I am basing everything on what others have written and my own thinking, so if I get something wrong, I apologize and please point it out.)

With so many smart devices around and the ubiquity of TV’s in homes, it would seem that by now somebody should have figured out how to make a TV smart and usable.  It already has a means of display and more and more have internet connections.  Many big name companies have tried to figure this problem out.  Samsung and other TV manufactures charge a premium for TV’s that have all kinds of internet features and even apps, yet usage is low.  So, what is the missing piece of the puzzle?

This morning I was reading a story from GigaOM that tried to explain the answer with an article on why “most smart TV’s still feel pretty dumb.” There was a number of explanations ranging from bad user interface design to lack of a powerful processor. A big reason why I am writing this post is because I think they have totally missed the mark.  There is one major problem with the smart TV:

The controller.

Let me give you two examples.  A few years ago I was with a family member who had purchased a TV that could do Netflix.  They were enjoying the experience of choosing whatever they wanted to watch while sitting in front of their large screen TV in their living room.  The problem was that in order to find a show they had to use the keypad on the remote control to arrow around the keyboard on the screen.  They fell to trying to figure out how to use their phone to do text input on the TV, a frustrating process.  About a year ago I was with another family member who had recently purchased a smart TV.  We managed to get it connected to the home network and wanted to play some music off of the computer upstairs.  The TV could do it fairly easily, but choosing a song using the arrows on the remote control’s keypad was frustrating.  We finally just grabbed a laptop nearby and did it that way.

With all other smart devices we are used to easy and direct interaction.  In most cases this means a touch screen where we can just select the option that we want and a pop-up keyboard to type in our search criteria. Instead we get the same remote control that has been coming with TV’s almost unchanged for decades.

I would even go so far as to argue that people do not really have an interest in using apps or browsing the internet on their TV.  This is actually a very personal thing to do.  The problem is that once you find something on your phone/tablet/laptop that you may want to watch on the big screen or share with others in the room, it is too much trouble to move to the TV and re-find it to share.

This is why I think that Google has taken a good first step in cracking the smart TV with the Chromecast.  It is a cheap and simple device that allows you to send what you find interesting to a shared TV so that others in the room can also enjoy it.  Or you can do your Netflix search with a device that is in the palm of your hand and easy to use and then simply send it to your TV to watch.  Choose the song or playlist that you like, and then send it to a device with better speakers. 

On episode 806 of Tech News Today, guest Danny Sullivan talked about watching YouTube videos on his TV with the Chromecast.  He pointed out that he had some private family videos that he had to be logged in to watch.  With the Chromecast he could just send the video to the TV without worrying about the login because he was already logged in on his phone.  Going through the login process on his TV would have been another several steps that would have just not been worth it.

Not everything is all roses with this device.  There are two major drawbacks.  First, there are a lot of limitations on how it can be used.  Apps need to have a send to Chromecast button (although those are being added quickly).   I am hoping that there features will be added in the near future that allow you to simply share your screen.

Second, it requires a WiFi connection.  To really make this thing useful Bluetooth should have been included as an option.  An early review on the Chromecast mentioned how it would be great for when you are doing presentations at a client’s office.  You can just plug into their TV and beam whatever you needed to share.  I will admit that I was really excited about this possibility in my line of work.  The bummer is that you would first have to get it setup on their wireless connection which makes just running a cable that much easier.

As I mentioned at the beginning, this is more of a quick reaction post.  Do you disagree with anything that I said?  Would you use a Chromecast over a Roku, AppleTV, or other set top box? Why or Why Not?  Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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5 Comments Post a comment
  1. Josh Wagner
    Aug 1 2013

    Agreed. Bought one for use in PD presentations. I hardly ever use our projector. Most everyone has a flat screen tv in the home.

    Reply
    • Aug 2 2013

      I would be very interested to hear your experience with using it on PD. So far everything that I am reading is saying that having to setup the WiFi at each new place is a deal killer for making it mobile.

      Reply
  2. Agree to a large extent, other than your comment regarding needing a Bluetooth connection. Chromecast streams directly from the cloud, not from your device, so a Bluetooth connection wouldn’t be helpful here (plus Bluetooth can’t support typical streaming video rates).

    Reply
    • Aug 2 2013

      Thanks for the response. It does seem to stream mostly from the cloud, but there are features that allow you to share your Chrome browser tab and even in some situations to stream your desktop. (Note the last two sections of the article at http://www.androidpolice.com/2013/07/31/google-chromecast-review-nailed-it/ .) That would be a local connection. The author of that post calls for WiFi Direct which would be a better solution than Bluetooth given your point about Bluetooth’s support for streaming video.

      Reply
  3. Aug 2 2013

    I reacted to the first article. It appears that in the third article they seem to agree with a bit of my premise: http://gigaom.com/2013/08/02/making-tvs-smart-part-3/

    Reply

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