Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past week, you’ve heard of the Google Chromecast, a cheap cool that easily lets you broadcast content from a computer or tablet to your TV. Many of you can’t buy a Chromecast because it’s pretty much sold out everywhere. Costing only $35, it’s quite popular. It was an even better deal when you got 3 months of free Netflix (like I did, yay!), but that only lasted 4 hours or so. Even though it’s been covered extensively on Gizmodo, Engadget, Mashable, ZDNet and countless other sites, I’m here to tell you about my own experiences because it turns out I discovered stuff none of these guys have reported it seems.
I will also cover the developer opportunity around the Chromecast.
Setting Up the Chromecast
I already setup my first Chromecast at home and it was a piece of cake. I decided to recreate the experience at work with another Chromecast (yes, I bought three of them). You see, all of our conference and huddle rooms at Infragistics are equipped with HDTVs (and some have additional projectors too), and I figured it would be cool to be able to have quick meetings and quickly share anything from a tablet or computer to a TV, without having to fumble around with cables.
I plugged my Chromecast into an HDTV in one of our huddle rooms, powered it via a USB port in the TV, switched the input on the TV, and you’re immediately greeted with a Chromecast screen, inviting you to set it up. You can see the Chromecast sticking out on the left there, where I’ve deliberately left it in plain view for the sake of this blog post.
There are three avenues to setup a Chromecast:
- Using the Chromecast app for Android on your phone or tablet: The on-screen url http://www.google.com/chromecast/setup provides you with a link to the Chromecast app in the Google Play Store.
- Using the Chromecast Installer app for Windows or Mac, which you download directly from Google using the same url.
- Using a Web browser on Windows, Mac or iOS: The Chromecast iOS app is apparently coming soon.
I did not try the browser or Win/Mac app setup yet as it was so much easier to use my new Google Nexus 7 android tablet.
Once the Chromecast app is launched, it searches your Wi-Fi network for any Chromecast devices. If it finds one (or more), a list is shown with factory Chromecast names. Mine was “Chromecast4487”, but you get to rename it later. Select the Chromecast from the list and your tablet attempts to connect to it.
A unique code should be shown on both your tablet and your TV.
If the codes match, you can proceed.
One you have a matching code on both your tablet and your TV, you proceed by tapping “I see the code”. The next step allows you to rename your Chromecast. At home, I’m using names like “Chromecast Living Room” or “Chromecast Bedroom”, but since this device is meant to be a "roaming” device for the office or hotel rooms when I travel to speak at conferences, I decided to call it “Chromecast Roaming”.
At this point the Chromecast app wants to configure your wireless network on the Chromecast.
You a presented with a list of available Wi-Fi networks, select one from a list, and attempt to connect. At home this was a piece of cake. I picked my home Wi-Fi, entered my password when prompted, and everything worked like a breeze. I was not so lucky when I tried this at work when I tried to connect to the Infragistics Wi-Fi.
Our Wi-Fi is quite secure at Infragistics. We use “WPA2 Enterprise” encryption, which requires every user to connect with their domain user and password, not just a Wi-Fi key. After several minutes of spinning while the tablet attempted to setup the Chromecast on the Infragistics Wi-Fi, I decided to Bing for the list of supported Wi-Fi security protocols (yes, I use Bing, ironic, isn’t it?) It turns out that Chromecast is NOT compatible with WPA2 Enterprise encryption.
Bummer. Also not supported – or not working well – are 5GHz routers. So if you have a dual-band router, you might have to manually connect it to the 2.4GHz band. I really hope they fix that in the future.
In order to get around that limitation, I decided to use my AT&T LTE Hotspot as an alternative Wi-Fi source. I figured it might be a good idea to test it since I often use it in hotel rooms to connect to the Internet.
I repeated all the steps above and after a few tries, eventually got it to connect to my HotSpot.
So I fired up the YouTube app. By default the video plays on the tablet, but I switched the output from “Tablet” to “Chromecast Roaming” (i.e. your Chromecast name) using the new Chromecast button in the app…
And got it to stream this cool YouTube video from TechEd.
At home this all worked on the first try, but here it actually took several tries since the HotSpot is not super fast and things took a long time to connect, which eventually led to a timeout. I suspect AT&T might be throttling streaming video like YouTube and Netflix.
The next thing I wanted to try was casting a web browser tab from Google Chrome. But try as I might – from work and from home – I just couldn’t get Chrome (with the Chromecast extension) on my laptop or Surface Pro to detect the Chromecast on the same Wi-Fi network. I’ll report on that later once I get it up and running. The feature is technically still in beta, and many have reported issues with it.
What You Can Do with Chromecast
Which brings us to the question: what can you do with Chromecast? Not a whole lot just yet:
- Cast a YouTube video
- Cast a Netflix Movie
- Cast a movie or TV show from Google Play Movies
- Cast some music from Google Play Music
- (Almost) Cast some music from Pandora (this was announced as “coming soon”)
- Cast a Chrome Web Browser tab from Windows or a Mac (beta feature), although I still haven’t been able to get this working either at work or at home
That’s it. It’s a short list. In all fairness, the thing only costs $35. If that’s all it ever did, it might almost be worth it. But if the story ended there, you’d be better off buying a Roku for $50 (which is a better deal than the Apple TV).
What You Can’t Do with Chromecast
What you can’t do is a bit more alarming, because there are blatantly missing features here, some stuff you might even expect
- Cast from a Windows Phone or Windows RT device
- Cast your photos and personal videos directly from your tablet
- Cast from a web browser on Android or iOS
- Cast a movie or TV show from iTunes or any other app
- Cast some music from iTunes, Spotify or any other app
- Cast from a WPA2 Enterprise Network
Google was very forthcoming about the fact that “not everyone uses an Android phone or tablet”, which is why they support iOS. Unfortunately, this is where it ends. Google still won’t acknowledge Windows Phone as the third mobile ecosystem, and that has a lot of devoted Windows fans up in arms.
Being able to cast photos or web tabs from an Android or iOS device is something I REALLY expected. Everything plays Netflix nowadays, but being able to quickly share some photos you just took and display them on a TV without sync’ing anything with a computer would have been really awesome. Why couldn’t Google add Chromecast support to the default photo Gallery app in Android at launch? The same goes for Chrome on Android or iOS.
What Developers Should Do with Chromecast
Chromecast is awesome because of its potential, not its features. This is where developers come in to play. Google also announced and released a Developer Preview of the Google Cast SDK to let developers experiment with second-screen app development.
All About That Second Screen
I love the words “second screen”, because that’s what it’s all about. As much as casting web browsers onto a TV sounds cool, I’d rather just cast from an Android, iOS, or Windows device app and extend the experience to my HDTV. Some scenarios would work just fine via screen mirroring, but the real magic is when developers design a second-screen experience.
Think about the potential for Second Screen Gaming. This would give the Wii U a run for its money.
Chromecast and the Big Brand Apps
One one hand, we’re all hoping that major apps will support the Chromecast. Here is my list of Android and iOS apps that I hope will support Chromecast in the very near future:
- Photos / Gallery - It baffles me that Chromecast shipped without a way to easily cast photos on your TV at launch.
- Web Browser: Chrome, Safari, etc. – I don’t understand why I can cast Chrome on Windows or Mac, but not on Android or iOS.
- Google Maps & Google Earth – This would be so cool that I don’t need to explain why.
- HBO GO - As soon as they release an update of their app for the new Nexus 7. This is rumored to be in the works, along with Hulu Plus.
- Comcast Xfinity Player – Although I doubt Comcast will ship this as it would bypass their AnyPlay service, allowing you to cast to any TV without having cable service on it.
- Audible – This would be nice to listen to audiobooks on your sound system, easily sharing the experience with other people.
- Dropbox - I have so much content in Dropbox, I need to be able to cast it.
- Microsoft SkyDrive – Or whatever the new name ends up being, and for the same reason as Dropbox.
- Microsoft OneNote – It would be awesome to easily cast OneNote during a collaborative meeting.
- Skype & Facetime – Use the camera on your tablet, but share the conversation with the entire living room.
- Comic Book Apps: ComiXology, Marvel, DC, Dark Horse, etc. – These stories are so vibrant in color, it’d be cool to share them on a big 65” TV, especially when reading them frame by frame with transitions.
- News Apps: Flipboard, Feedly, USA Today, New York Times, CNN, BBC News, Associated Press, CBC News, etc. – A great way to browse the news.
- TV Network & TV Show Apps: NBC, CBS, ABC, TBS, etc. – An awesome way to watch all those video clips & full episodes on demand, including shows that have dedicated apps, like the Today Show or Jon Stewart.
- Social Media Apps: Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Google+ – An ideal way to catch-up on all those updates and photos of what friend ate what food.
There are many other apps and types of apps I could list. I’m also hoping that Google will open up the Chromecast to Windows Phone and Windows 8.
Chromecast for the Indie Dev: Opportunity!
Do we really need to wait for these “big brands” to wake up and support Chromecast? We’re all developers and this is our chance to finally differentiate ourselves in an ecosystem of 1 million apps. How do you stand out? Add Chromecast support.
The immediate problem is the Google Cast SDK is in “Preview”, and Google recommends against using it in production apps:
Warning: The current Google Cast SDK is a preview SDK intended for development and testing purposes only, not for production apps. Google may change this SDK significantly prior to the official release of the Google Cast SDK. We strongly recommend that you do not publicly distribute any application using this preview SDK, as this preview SDK will no longer be supported after the official SDK is released (which will cause applications based only on the preview SDK to break).
Furthermore, any app built with this preview SDK will only work with Chromecast devices that have been “whitelisted”, which is a form of “unlocking” of your Chromecast dongle for development & testing purposes. That shouldn’t stop anyone though. Smart developers should start adding Chromecast support to beta versions of their apps now, test & polish them, iterate though updates of the Google Cast SDK, and pull the trigger to publish in the Google Play and Apple App Stores as soon as Google gives the green light.
The Chromecast is selling like hotcakes and all these users are waiting for more app support. These “early bird” Android and iOS devs should get massive download numbers once Google allows them to publish their apps and connect to retail Chromecast dongles without any whitelisting required.
Are You In?
What do you think of the Google Chromecast? Did you buy one? What other apps would you like to see add Chromecast support? Are you a developer eager to catch the early Chromecast worm?
I’ll explore Chromecast development with the Google Cast SDK in a future post. In the meantime, let me know what your Chromecast plans are by posting in the comments below, or by contacting me on Twitter at @ActiveNick.