SAN FRANCISCO —
Last week, Google Inc. said it would start selling a $35 gadget that will plug into a high-definition TV and stream video from Netflix, YouTube and other sources. Analysts say that the device could be a disruptive move by Google to compete with Apple and other tech companies that want to bring Internet services to the television set.
The 2-inch device, dubbed Chromecast, is aimed at replacing set-top boxes and can be controlled by both Android and Apple smartphones or computers. Google said it will also stream music or even show Web pages from computers using the Google Chrome Web browser.
Forrester analyst Sarah Rotman Epps tweeted that it represents a “smaller, more elegant approach” compared with Google’s previously halting efforts at similar products.
Google announced the device at an event where the Mountain View, Calif., search giant also showed off a new Nexus 7 mini-tablet with a high-definition screen that the company said is especially suited for high-speed gaming and video streaming.
Other announcements included an update to the Android Jelly Bean operating system and new tools for developers to build high-definition games for tablets. Google also announced it’s expanding its online books business by selling college textbooks from some of the country’s biggest publishers.
But the star of the event was the new Chromecast gadget, which looks something like a USB memory stick, but packs far more capabilities. When plugged into a TV set, Google said the gadget will connect both to a home wireless router and to other devices such as smartphones, tablets or laptop computers. Anyone in range can then use their smartphone or computer as the “remote control” — to select a video from YouTube or Netflix, for example.
The Chromecast takes its cue from the selected device but then streams the video or other material directly from the Internet, through the home router, so the smartphone’s battery doesn’t drain, Google representatives said.
Google executive Sundar Pichai told reporters the gadget was inspired by the observation that, “It’s very, very nice to show videos to your friends, but it’s really difficult to do” on the small screen of a smartphone.
The device won’t work with videos from Amazon or Hulu unless the material is being streamed from a laptop using the Chrome browser. Pichai said Google is talking with a variety of companies about creating apps that would work with Chromecast. “I fully expect a lot more partners to join us,” he said.
Pichai is Google’s senior vice president over both Android and Chrome software, and the company touted both at Wednesday’s event.
Google’s new Nexus 7 tablet, which runs on the newest version of Android, sells at $229 for a 16-gigabyte model that works with Wi-Fi, and $329 for a 32-gigabyte version that works with all three wireless carriers: Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile. That’s significantly less than Apple’s 8-inch iPad mini, which starts at $329 for a 16-gigabyte model without a wireless plan, but more than the cost of Amazon’s Kindle Fire, which starts at $159.
Google usually uses the Nexus brand of smartphones and tablets to show off the latest features of its Android operating system, and to set a standard that it hopes will attract other manufacturers and consumers.
While the company doesn’t make much money from selling the devices, or from the Android software itself, they are part of a strategy aimed at getting consumers to use Google’s other online services — such as search and maps — which are major sources of advertising revenue for the company.
Android is now the most widely used operating system for both smartphones and tablets in the world. More than 56 percent of all tablets sold in the first quarter of 2013 ran on Android, according to the research firm IDC, while slightly less than 40 percent were iPads, which use Apple’s rival iOS software.
Tablet and TV options from Google
NEXT NEXUS 7: Google has introduced a sleeker and more powerful version of its Nexus 7 tablet that runs on the company’s Android software. Prices for the new model start at $229, or $30 higher than the lowest-priced Nexus 7 current on sale.
TV TIME: The Internet company is also taking another stab at making it easier for people to display Internet content on their TVs with a new device called Chromecast that plugs into the HDMI ports of flat-panel TVs. It sells for just $35 and includes three free months of Netflix.
THE TARGET: Both the tablet and streaming stick appear to be primarily aimed at similar products made by Apple Inc. More about Chromecast
Sundar Pichai, Google’s senior vice president for Chrome and Android, said Google was talking to many partners and hoped that Hulu and Amazon.com services would be added. Apple is unlikely to join Google’s party.
“Historically, iTunes works only on Apple devices, so they have a different approach,” he said.
Chromecast, which is similar to Apple AirPlay, also enables people to mirror websites visible in their browser on their TV screen. So users could watch videos or look at photos on the big screen, and they could theoretically watch TV shows accessible online, such as at HBO Go. But expect pushback. Pichai said that media companies have the ability to block their content from Chromecast, which major broadcast networks did with Google TV.
For consumers, Chromecast is hardly the final stop on the road to Internet-connected TVs that allow users to watch whatever they want whenever they want on any device they want. Instead, it is one more offering in an already fractured market. Tech companies have been trying many experiments to merge TV and the Internet, and in the process get a share of TV viewing and advertising.The Associated Press The New York Times