Google – the search engine, e-mail provider, and trivia authority – has moved into new territory. The company is now selling a set-top box that connects users’ cellphones, tablets, or laptops to their television.
Chromecast looks like a black thumb drive and fits into the back of a television. Simply plug in Chromecast, connect it to Wi-Fi, and then stream videos over the Internet to your TV. Users can continue other activities on their phones or laptops while streaming content onto their TV. This means you can start watching Netflix content on your iPhone, stream the episode to your TV, and play a game on your phone while watching the streaming content, according to a review by Mashable.
“Of course people would want to watch YouTube and Netflix on the device with the biggest screen, but the user experience on the TV has been so difficult,” says Rishi Chandra, a director of product management at Google in an interview with Bloomberg after the product’s unveiling.
The contraption seems surprisingly user-friendly – and that might just be the point. Google has been moving away from just being an Internet company, and is trying to expand the brand by becoming a product innovator as well. Ventures such as Google Glass, the Chromebook laptop, and Chromecast are part of the company’s effort to expand its reach.
Chromecast isn’t the first TV-streaming device from Google. The company launched the Nexus Q in June 2012, but it received a round of negative reviews and is no longer on sale. A "Google TV" device has also reportedly been in the works for a while, but hasn't been fine-tuned well enough for release yet.
But the company still faces some stiff competition from other TV-streaming companies. Apple has its own streaming set-top box, Microsoft has the Xbox 360, and Sony has its PlayStation 3 – the latter two were designed for video games, but have expanded into steaming video. However, the low cost of Google's product – Apple TV is $99, the Xbox starts at $199, and PlayStation 3 runs more than $200 – might give it an edge with non-gamers looking to kickback and tap into Netflix or YouTube.
Chromecast is on sale at Amazon.com, BestBuy.com, and Google’s Play Store.