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Chromecast: A Mixed Bag

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Google has announced Chromecast, and $35 “dongle” that occupies an HDMI port and offers streaming of Netflix, YouTube, Google Play Store, and Chrome browser. Will the low price point make it a contender in a game that’s heating up, or will it’s lack of features cause people to continue buying Apple TV’s and Roku boxes?

There have been a lot of devices that have hoped to become as popular as the Apple TV, but none of them have been able to dethrone The Fruit. Why is that? All of these devices offer (basically) the same stuff the Apple TV does, but at a lower price point. So what is it about Apple’s little black box that makes people spend the extra $20+ dollars? There are a few features that Apple TV has that no other box does, and it’s those features that will keep it on top of the heap. But could a $35 option cut into Apple’s sales? Could it kill Roku’s?

So what is it that the Apple TV offers that the Roku and new Chromecast lack? There aren’t many, but the ones that exist are pretty big.

Exclusive Apple TV Features:

iTunes – This is a pretty obvious but nonetheless important point for many people. iTunes has an enormous catalogue of  music, movies, and TV shows in it’s store, and that’s a pretty big deal. I hear you saying that the Roku has access to Amazon’s library, and that’s true. However, if you consider the amount of music that people have bought from iTunes vs Amazon the scale tips toward Apple. Many people will pay a little more for a device if all of their stuff (movies, music, TV shows, etc) can all be utilized from a single box.

Airplay & Mirroring – For those unaware, Airplay is a feature that allows iOS devices and Macs to play content from their device up to the TV. The Roku and Chromecast offer this too, however they don’t do Airplay Mirroring. This feature allows you to mirror exactly what is on the screen of your iOS device or Mac, and with Mac OS X 10.9 it will turn your TV into a full featured external display. Obviously the Airplay Mirroring feature is going to be limited to people who own a Mac, or an iPhone, or an iPad, or an iPod Touch. So, you know, just a few people.

Another issue to remember is that both the Roku  and the Apple TV offer much more than just Netflix and YouTube. With content from services like Hulu Plus and HBO GO, the Chromecast’s competition has some great shows that are missing from the tiny little dongle. While we’re at it, I’d just like to point out that the Chromecast isn’t actually a dongle at all. It requires a power cable. So you’ll be having to either use a wall charger (is it included? I don’t know. Probably not for $35) or you’ll have to plug it in to one of the USB ports on your TV (if you have one).

The Chromecast also lacks a remote. Now some people are going to disagree with me on this, but I like the Apple TV remote and I like the Roku remote. I don’t personally see it as a burden to own a remote for these types of things, but that’s how it’s being pitched from Google. Just use the app on your phone or tablet and you won’t have to keep up with a remote. Now, that’s fine for some, but sometimes I like to have the TV on and be doing something on my phone. So that means that if I want to tell the Chromecast to do something (pause for example) I would have to stop what I was doing on the phone in order to do so. That example may not be the best one, but consider this: What happens when you’re sitting at home, streaming some Sherlock or Doctor Who and someone calls you? Normally, I’d pick up my Apple TV remote and press the Play/Pause button with one hand while answering my phone with the other. How am I supposed to pause the Chromecast without having to send the call to voicemail? What if that was an important call? A potential boss calling you in for a second interview? I guess you could run out of the room while answering the phone, just hope if you’re watching The Newsroom it doesn’t happen to be one of those (many) moments when Will, Mac, Charley or Don drop an F bomb. (You’re a f#cking newsman, Don! I ever tell you otherwise, you punch me in the face!)

So do I think that the Chromecast will hurt Apple’s sales too badly? No, but I do think that some people who have more than one TV in their house may very well be tempted to spend $35 to get Netflix on that secondary TV in the bedroom vs $99 for an Apple TV or Roku 3. I also think that it’s good to have some sort of an option at this price point. Some folks just want Netflix and YouTube and don’t care if Google ever adds another feature, and for them saving the money could be a great option.

Competition is always good, and having someone jump in at a lower price point is great. I’m just wondering why they chose to have it run Chrome instead of Android…

About Justin North

Justin North
Yeah. 220... 221, whatever it takes.