Did Chromecast just kill Google TV?
When I first saw Chromecast announced earlier today, the first thought I had was the title of this column: Did Chromecast just kill Google TV? It's a valid question, but a more complex one than it would first seem. If you've been reading, you'll know that a few weeks ago I purchased my first Google TV, and I've had mixed feelings about it so far. On one hand, I can see the potential of having full Android on my TV, but on the other hand, it's just that right now: potential.
Google TV is still based on Google's lost Android version: 3.x Honeycomb. Honeycomb was the interim version that came out when Google realized that it had to have something more optimized for tablets, because manufacturers just kept loading up Gingerbread on tablets and giving users a seriously wonky experience. Honeycomb never went open source, and was quickly forgotten once Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich came along to bring in Google's true vision of a responsive design system that would adapt to any screen size. The Google TV update to Android 4.2 Jelly Bean has been promised, but has yet to arrive.
Google TV is a great idea with bad execution. Unless you have DISH TV, the live TV options like searching your guide listings, having Google TV change the channel for you, and the new PrimeTime app which would learn your favorites and recommend other shows you might like, in addition to reminding you when your shows are on - all of that, doesn't work on any cable provider other than DISH TV. Additionally, the app ecosystem is very limited, and Chrome on Google TV is stuck at version 11, while my Nexus 4 and Nexus 10 are both on version 29 (beta), and my laptop is on version 30 (dev).
So, all that leaves as far as useful things I can do with my Google TV are: watch YouTube, Netflix, and Amazon Instant. And, as you can see, that's why the question came into my head: Did Chromecast just kill Google TV? It may be fair to respond that Google TV was stillborn, but for now, let's assume that it at least had a future before now.
Chromecast essentially takes everything that works well about Google TV and strips out the rest. Not only that, the device costs less than half of what the cheapest Google TV would set you back. That puts Chromecast squarely in the impulse purchase territory. I have already bought a Chromecast on impulse twice, and cancelled both orders and the device hasn't been on the market 12 hours yet. The only thing keeping me from pulling the trigger is my Google TV. If I didn't own a Google TV, I would have purchased a Chromecast in an instant (of course, I almost did anyway). The only things that held me back were the promise of Jelly Bean, and the fact that with GTV, I don't have to change the video input on my TV to do stuff (yes, I'm that lazy).
As I said, Chromecast is just $35, so it is a total impulse buy if you come across it at Best Buy or on Amazon.com. And, the device itself is as simple as could be because it essentially is little more than a streaming/screencasting device. Assuming it works as Google has said it will, the device is simple and it does what most people would want from a Google TV device: getting YouTube on your TV. Add on that it is a hub for your mobile devices, which people are using all the time anyway, and the device has all the hallmarks of a winner.
The Chromebook Corollary
That's when I remembered one thing: I love my Chromebook, but it doesn't keep me from using my Ubuntu laptop or my Nexus devices. The Chromecast falls into the same area. Assuming that Google TV will get the Jelly Bean update soon enough; and, assuming that update helps to right many of the issues with the platform, the Chromecast will become the same option in the lineup as a Chromebook.
making its way onto laptops, and in the face of full platforms like Windows, Ubuntu, and MacOS is because not everyone needs a full platform. Sure, it's nice to have the option to do the extra things that you can in Windows or on Android, but if you live your life in a browser (as I do), then there really is no downside to a Chromebook: it's inexpensive and does everything I need.
The Chromecast is the same idea: it is an inexpensive device that does the majority of what one might want out of a device that is hooked to a TV; but, if you need more out of life, there is still Google TV. Android/Chrome chief Sundar Pichai said as much in an interview with AllThingsD today. Google TV will support Google Cast (the protocol that runs Chromecast) in the future, but Pichai says that GTV will also become "a full-fledged Android for television". Pichai also said that Google TV could provide "an immersive experience" which would be more conducive to gaming, which makes it sound like my hope for a Nexus TV could be a reality soon enough.
The real question isn't so much whether Chromecast will kill Google TV, but rather if Google TV will ever reach its potential. If it can become "full-fledged Android for television" as Sundar Pichai says, then it should have a fine life living alongside Chromecast, just like Chromebooks can easily coexist alongside more full-featured products. But, until Google TV can reach that level, it looks as though Chromecast may be the way to go if you want a Google product that hooks up to your TV.
Chromecast is lightweight, inexpensive, and easily controlled from any mobile device. Meanwhile, Google TV is buggy, and troublesome. That seems to make a pretty easy choice.