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Google Inc. Continues to Limit Chromecast's Potential


After 10 weeks, Google's fantastic streaming stick remains in its barebones state, despite a user base clamoring for more.

Back in May, I remarked how I had given up hope for Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL), Google (NASDAQ:GOOG), and Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) to deliver a better TV experience. After gritting my teeth through Apple TV and Boxee Box ownership, it just seemed like tech players, both major and minor, could never get it together on the home entertainment front and would forever deliver stunted, hamstrung products that would never live up to their full potential.

Cut to the end of July when Google unveiled its unapologetically simple Chromecast. Not so much a set-top box as an HDMI dongle, the Chromecast didn't sport as many features as its HDTV compatriots and only supported Netflix (NASDAQ:NFLX), YouTube, and Google Play content, but at $35 with a drop-dead simple interface, Google had apparently hit upon a winner. The response from users was immediately rabid -- both Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN) and Best Buy (NYSE:BBY) couldn't keep it on the shelves for weeks -- and considering third parties were lining up to support the magic device, it appeared that Google had "cracked the code" to TV before Apple could.

But at the end of August, Google dulled Chromecast's shine.

Developer Koushik Dutta had created an app called AirCast which allowed Chromecast users to beam videos stored on their Android devices, Dropbox, or Google Drive accounts directly to their TV. The Chromecast already allowed local file streaming by opening certain types of videos in a Google Chrome tab and casting that tab to the TV, but Dutta's app allowed it to do much more simply by exploiting a hole in Chromecast's code to allow local media streaming. In an update, however, Google effectively closed that hole.

Since then, Google's promising Chromecast stick remains disappointingly barebones.

Granted, Chromecast is a mere 10 weeks from being officially unveiled and is still in developer stages, but 10 weeks is a very long time for a slobbering fan base who would love to install Plex, Aereo, HBO Go (NYSE:TWX), Pandora (NASDAQ:P), or any other app from one of the many third parties interested in being on the Chromecast team. Why hasn't Google kept the momentum going as we near the holiday season?

Given the abrupt halt, I'm beginning to fear that my earlier assertion -- that Apple, Google, and Microsoft can't or won't deliver a be-all, end-all HDTV device -- may be correct.

Analyst Andriana Lee of ReadWrite spoke with a Google representative who told her, "[We] want to provide a great experience for users and developers before making the SDK and additional apps more broadly available."

But just how long should we expect that to be? Dutta was able to develop and release AirCast in a matter of weeks. And Chromecast is already starting to see competition flare up in the living room.

A recent update to the Apple TV allows users to mimic the Chromecast's ability to stream iTunes content from iOS devices to other users' Apple TVs. Unlike Chromecast, however, that Apple TV feature is only compatible with iOS devices and leaves the Android users out in the cold.

Roku, one of the leaders in home media center arena, introduced a refresh of its Roku boxes and specifically hyped the ability to stream local media. Then again, Roku doesn't have a native YouTube app which allows it to access its video content.

Then we have Sony's (NYSE:SNE) new BRAVIA Smart Stick which was announced two weeks ago. The device includes apps not featured on Chromecast, but its limited compatibility and $149 price tag still make it a reluctant buy against the significantly cheaper Chromecast.

But even with the competitors' shortcomings, the longer Google waits to usher the Chromecast out of beta, the more time other players have to one-up the once-ballyhooed device. Google can't afford to bide its time and wait to "provide a great experience for users and developers." It needs to strike while the dongle is hot, so to speak.

I really hope I was wrong in May. I'd love to see Chromecast deliver on that limitless potential that was just waiting in the wings when it was introduced in July. I'd love to see apps like Plex and XBMC tackle local media with aplomb and organize users' MP4s and AVIs into cleanly designated and searchable libraries. And I'd love to see the interface remain as simple and widely compatible as it is now, allowing Android, iOS, Mac, and Windows users to control the video feeds from their devices with ease.

But the longer it remains stunted in beta, the more I fear home media will never catch up to a laptop, an HDMI cable, and a Bluetooth keyboard.

Update (7:11 a.m.): Well, what a difference a few hours make. Overnight, it was revealed that Hulu Plus has just joined the Google Chromecast fold with the ability to stream content from the subscription-based video site. Support for Android phones and tablets, as well as iPads, will be rolling out later today. iPhone support is reportedly coming soon.

While the news certainly mitigates fears that Google will forever be dragging its feet with Chromecast development, Hulu Plus support is arguably something that should've come sooner -- perhaps even at launch. Nevertheless, it is progress and will definitely come as a welcome surprise to users.

Now, let's get some better local media support!

See also:

Microsoft's Surface Pro 2: So Right, but So Wrong

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Apple Inc. Whips iPhone Users With Their Own Third-Party Cables
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