Google unveiled two new pieces of hardware today: an update to its Nexus 7 tablet and the Chromecast, an HDMI device which plugs into your television to enable video streaming from a wide range of services, supported by a software development kit (SDK) that allow new apps to take advantage of the service. Unfortunately -- and as is often the case with new Google hardware -- Australian users won't see them right away.
Picture: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
The Chromecast is a tiny thumb drive-sized stick with an HDMI port on one end. It's Wi-Fi enabled and designed to make it simple to push video and other content from your home network, smartphone or the web directly to your TV screen. The Chromecast can be controlled remotely from any Android device, iOS device or computer running Chrome, as long as you're using a Chromecast- enabled app.
During the demo at a press conference in San Francisco, Google showed off YouTube, Netflix, Pandora and Google Play media services. Anything playing in Chrome on your desktop can be shared using a "cast" button on the toolbar. The Chromecast is designed to allow media to keep playing even if the device being used to stream the content is also being used for other tasks.
The approach of using a dongle for TV control is a familiar one (we've seen a device to do this from Kogan, for instance). It also marks Google's latest attempt to crack TV and media streaming, a market where it has only had limited success. Its Google TV platform has only had limited success, and never made it to Australia outside of a handful of Sony devices. Its Nexus Q media streamer was delayed, seemingly indefinitely.
At $US35, I suspect the Chromecast will sell well initially. However, in its first version, it is definitively a US-only product.
A big part of the reason for that is the close tie-in with Netflix; the $35 includes three months free subscription. No plans have been announced for release outside the US, and previous streaming systems from Google have tended to hit overseas markets years later, if they arrive at all.
That said, with the device being sold through US Best Buy stores from July 28, it won't be hard to get your hands on one if you're keen to experiment with the device. The biggest reason to do that? Google is releasing a Google Cast SDK to allow app developers to cast their own content to the device. For any local developers with media-related apps, this is probably worth checking out.
According to Google, only around 200 lines of code are needed to "Cast-enable" an app. The developer kit is in preview; you can't release any apps using the service without written permission from Google, and if you're developing for Chrome, your site will need to be whitelisted by Google before it works. (I'm guessing that means adult content providers might not be allowed in.)
The Nexus 7
The new Nexus 7 tablet is a little shorter and wider than its predecessor. More importantly, it is around 50 grams lighter and 2mm thinner. It includes a full HD screen (1920 by 1200 pixels), and runs the newly-announced Jelly Bean 4.3.
While the last Nexus 7 tablet saw an Australian release simultaneous with the US, this new model is US-only initially. However, Google has said other countries are coming "soon". The big question will be whether we pay an 'Australia tax' premium for the device, though in the case of the Nexus 7 that wasn't as big as some people made it out to be.