Chromecast in 2014: an open SDK, big international plans and maybe even new devices

Gigaom

Google landed a bit of a coup with Chromecast this year, launching a device that no one saw coming but that has proven to be very popular. Next year, the company plans to take Chromecast even further by bringing it to a number of international markets, opening up the SDK to make hundreds (if not thousands) of apps Chromecast-compatible, and partnering with consumer electronics companies to bring cast functionality to other devices.

Making Chromecast more widely available around the globe is one of the company’s biggest goals for the device in the coming year, said Google VP of Product Management Mario Queiroz in an interview with Gigaom this week. “We are going to be launching in a number of international markets,” he said, adding that people are going to be “pleasantly surprised” by the scope of this international expansion.

One reason for this fast move into other countries is that Google wants to encourage publishers in those markets to make their apps Chromecast-compatible, which is part of a bigger goal to bring as many apps as possible to the device. “There will be an expectation from consumers that any and every app will be ‘castable,’” Queiroz said.

More waves of apps, and an open SDK, are on their way

Google has up until now only allowed a few partners to launch apps on Chromecast. Initially, Chromecast users could only access media from Netflix as well as Google’s own YouTube and Google Play services. The company then added support for Hulu Plus, Pandora and HBO Go. Earlier this week, it unleashed a wave of ten apps, including the popular media center app Plex, music service Songza and RealNetwork’s new cloud player.

Google hasn’t opened up Chromecast to every publisher yet because it hasn’t finalized the SDK, according to company representatives. At launch, Google made a preview SDK available to developers, allowing them to build but not distribute apps. Queiroz said that nonetheless “hundreds of developers” have signed up to add Chromecast capabilities to their apps.

Queiroz declined to say when exactly Google plans to release the SDK next year, but he told me that the company has been making progress in getting ready for a public release. Part of these efforts included a recent internal Chromecast hackathon. The company hosted around 40 developers from 30 companies in its offices in Mountain View this past weekend, giving them access to the most recent, still-unpublished version of the Chromecast SDK, with the goal of getting feedback that will shape the final version.

However, even without an open SDK available, there is good news for consumers: Queiroz told me that Google will be making a few more waves of Chromecast apps available in the near future.

Building an ecosystem around casting

As more apps become available Chromecast should become more interesting for consumers, but Google is also looking to momentum from developers to advance on an even bigger goal: The company wants to turn Chromcast’s technology, also dubbed Google Cast, into an ecosystem and work with consumer electronics manufacturers to bring it to other devices. “Our broader goal is for Google Cast to be established as a standard,” Queiroz told me.

Google has been working towards this goal for some time. Even before the launch of Chromecast, it introduced a multiscreen technology called DIAL together with Netflix. DIAL helps mobile and connected devices to discover and talk to each other, and it’s a core component of Chromecast’s technology (for more on DIAL, also check out this video interview with YouTube Product Manager Sarah Ali and Netflix Partner Devices Director Scott Mirer.)

DIAL has been a quiet success story in 2013, and is now being added to TV sets and connected devices from many major manufacturers. But DIAL is only part of the puzzle. Google’s casting technology adds playback and control functionality to the mix, and simple APIs help to add cast functionality to mobile apps on both Android and iOS. It’s that complete package that Google now hopes to bring to devices from other manufacturers as well.

Queiroz expressed optimism that this will happen sooner rather than later, telling me that the company already had “serious conversations” with a number of consumer electronics manufacturers.

The long shadow of Google TV

Of course, this isn’t the first time that Google has tried to bring the consumer electronics industry together. The company’s Google TV software was supposed to become the go-to platform for smart TV manufacturers, mimicking the success that Google had with Android in the smartphone world. That didn’t happen. A number of companies, including Sony, Vizio and Logitech, tried their hands at Google TV, but their products, plagued by complexity and resistance from broadcasters, never became mainstream, and Logitech ended up losing millions of dollars.

Google has now taken steps to merge Google TV with Android and is even getting ready to kill the branding, instead just talking about Google services for Android-based TV devices. And there have been internal shifts: A significant number of former Google TV developers are now working on Chromecast or other products, and the Chromecast team is now in the same building that used to exclusively house the Google TV development. Queiroz declined to comment on Google’s organizational structure, only saying that “both projects will continue.” But with long-time Google executive Sundar Pichai in charge of both Android and Chrome, it’s no accident that Google TV stick is now called Chromecast.

The difference is in the numbers

There are significant differences between Chromecast and Google TV, even beyond the fact that Chromecast is simply a whole lot easier to use. For one thing, Google decided to go out and build its own device this time around, instead of relying on launch partners from the consumer electronics industry.

“This enabled us to be very nimble,” said Queiroz. Without competing interests and a multitude of possible implementations, Google was able to keep its focus on two things: price and usability. “We really tried to build the simplest possible device that we could,” he told me.

That strategy has seemingly paid off. Google hasn’t released any official Chromecast sales numbers, and Queiroz didn’t want to comment on that subject either, other than telling me that Chromecast sales exceeded the company’s expectations. But there are some indicators that sales have indeed been going very well.

After its launch in July, Chromecast quickly became the number one selling electronics device on Amazon, even outselling the retailer’s own Kindle Fire tablets. In recent weeks, Chromecast has occasionally slipped from that number one spot, but only a little, and it has remained in the site’s top 3 ever since.

Walmart.com has been listing Chromecast as a Best Seller, and the Chromecast configuration app has been downloaded between one and five million times from the Play Store. None of these details provide us with hard sales numbers, and the app installs in particular should just be seen as anecdotal evidence — but Google TV never even came close to any of these achievements.

No one at Google would publicly say that Chromecast may be the success story that Google TV never was, but there is a palpable new level of optimism with regards to the company’s plans for the living room. Queiroz told me that the Chromecast team has been “incredibly proud and happy” about the reception that Chromecast has received, and added that everyone involved early on knew Google was onto something with this one. Said Queiroz: “We knew it was going to be something special.”



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