How Google’s Chromecast Will Change My Life
I don’t consider myself an early adopter of technology. I still prefer books on paper and I don’t feel the need to try out every device or app that comes on the market. At best, I’m a reasonably fast follower.
Nevertheless, when Google came out with Chromecast, I ordered it within a few days (which still made me too late to get one before the first batch sold out). It came last week and so I’ve had some time to put it through its paces.
So far, I like it a lot. It was easy to set up and I like the way I can control my TV from my tablet. With my Apple TV, I would always search for what I wanted on another device before I would start fiddling with the clunky remote. Yet what really excites me is not what the Chromecast is, but what it’s going to be and how that will change my life.
The New Age of Web Video
I’ve never been a real fan of web video. I might watch an occasional YouTube video or a TED talk, but sitting at my computer screen for an hour or two to watch a TV series or a movie just doesn’t appeal to me. Holding a tablet for the same period isn’t much better.
As ad executive Bob Hoffman points out on his Ad Contrarian blog, I’m not alone. Only 3% of video viewing occurs online. The other 97% happens right where it always has—on the big screen. This shouldn’t be surprising. As TV’s are getting bigger and better, why would anyone choose to watch video on a puny little screen?
Of course, it’s been possible to stream web video onto big screens for awhile using smart TV’s or external devices like Apple TV and Roku, but the experience has been unwieldy. You still usually have to use a remote to navigate and that makes it hard to browse through and find what you want to watch.
With Chromecast, however, you can just beam whatever you want from your tablet or smartphone, making the experience much smoother and more natural. What’s more, it’s about the size of a large USB drive and only costs $35, making it realistic to put one on every TV in the house.
An Apple TV is a bit bigger than a hockey puck and costs $99 dollars. Chromecast is probably less than a quarter of the size and about one third the price. It’s perfectly reasonable to expect that in the next few years we’ll see similar devices that are a quarter the size and a third of the price of Chromecast.
For that matter, why do we need a separate device at all? At a half inch long and ten dollars, a device could be included in a high end TV without us even noticing it in the design or the price. And for that matter, why just video? Why can’t we just project anything from our smartphone and tablets anywhere we want.
To see what I mean, check out this video Corning put out a few years back:
Ten years ago, we were tied to our computers. Now, we’re tied to our screens. But it’s easy to see how ten years from now, computing will completely disappear into our surroundings.
The Web of Things
While the clumsy old keyboard and mouse interfaces are being transformed into more natural touch, gesture and voice controls, a new Web of Things is emerging that is making everything a computable entity.
Much like Chromecast allows us to navigate our TV’s from a second screen, there are a variety of devices and services that allow us to control other parts of our home. Wemo switches, for example, plug into a regular outlet and let you control just about any appliance from anywhere you are. (Did I leave the coffee machine on?).
Nest is a device that not only allows you to control your thermostat remotely, but actually learns how to make your home more comfortable and energy efficient. Other, more elaborate services such as Comcast’s Xfinity Home also include a security system that lets you monitor your house while you’re away with a live feed streamed to your device.
At IBM, they’re scaling up similar technology to create entire smart cities. As David Bartlett, the VP of IBM’s Smarter Physical Infrastructure program told me, “We can use predictive algorithms to foresee problems before a pipe breaks and that’s helping us reduce work orders by 38% in Boston.”
But it’s not just the infrastructure that’s improving, consumers are as important to the system as microprocessors and algorithms. IBM is partnering with platforms like Citysourced to provide apps so that regular citizens can report problems and track the progress of work on their complaint.
Rather than fighting City Hall, regular people are becoming able to tap into their city. It’s like having a Chromecast for your local government!
When Supply Meets Demand
Much like the first generation of smart TV’s, many of these new devices and services are not as smooth as they could be. After all, most of the products and services we use today weren’t designed for a smart world, but for a dumb one. We can add smart chips to them that connect to the Internet, but that’s not what they were designed for.
To be truly smart, products and services need to be designed with the Internet in mind and we’re already ready seeing this in TV. Although web video viewership is still miniscule compared to conventional TV, there is already an entire ecosystem devoted to producing content for the Web and other alternative platforms. It’s just a matter of time before other industries catch on too.
While all of this may sound far off, things can change incredibly quickly. After all, just a few years ago electric cars seemed like a pipe dream. Now Tesla has emerged as a serious competitor, garnering 12% of the luxury sports car market in California.
So, while I’m perfectly happy with my Chromecast for now, what I’m really excited about is the future it promises.