Google (GOOG) has already given the world $300 phones and $200 tablets, but the newest gizmo from the House of Android comes in at a cool $35.
Dubbed the Chromecast, the 2-inch, black plastic dongle connects to a television set via the HDMI port to give access to all kinds of Internet stuff, including YouTube videos, movies and TV shows from Netflix (NFLX), and, coming soon, music from Pandora (P). It can also pull down almost any other Web content that’s viewable on a computer in Google’s Chrome browser.
Users can control the Chromecast with any of the full range of popular computing devices – an Android or Apple (AAPL) phone or tablet, a Windows or Mac computer and even via Google’s pricey Pixel Chrome laptop.
A phone as remote control
But unlike Apple’s Airplay feature, which sends video to a TV set via streaming right from an iPhone or iPad, Chromecast makes its own connection to the Internet from home wifi networks. The user’s phone, tablet or laptop functions as a remote control.
And Chromecast can start playing a video on orders from one person’s phone or device and then shift control to anyone else’s compatible device if desired.
The new gizmo comes as Google and many rivals, including Apple, are racing to create new video services to compete with – or work alongside – cable television. Such a service could eventually flow all kinds of channels directly to a Chromecast with its low $35 entry fee.
Google also announced a Chromecast software kit for developers, so other apps can build in support, too. It’s much like Apple’s $99 Apple TV but at one-third the price and a fraction of the size. Of course, the Google device can’t access movies and shows bought from iTunes. It will play movies and shows bought from Google's Play store, though.
Apple could build an update of the Apple TV with similar capabilities, as Benedict Evans of Enders Analysis predicted last month.
Along with the Chromecast, Google also introduced the widely leaked update to its 7-inch Nexus tablet, dubbed the “new” Nexus 7, with a higher resolution screen and thinner, lighter body than its 2012 predecessor. It will be available in the United States on July 30, starting at $229. Other countries including the United Kingdom, Germany, Spain, France and Japan will get the new model “in coming weeks.”
The U.S. 4G model has an unlocked mobile modem that can connect to the fast LTE service from Verizon (VZ), AT&T (T) or T-Mobile (TMUS). That should help encourage more competition on the mobile broadband front, since customers will be able to switch carriers without buying a new device.
The Nexus 7 competes directly with Apple’s iPad mini, but how does selling the $35 Chromecast further Google’s overall strategy?
Rishi Chandra, a director of product management at Google, let that one slip as he demonstrated how the Chromecast could switch control from one phone to another without skipping a beat.
"You're not tied to any specific device," he noted.
And that’s just how Google wants it.