And the stream played on: Google tags the telly

Jul 29, 2013

I've just sent off an email with the phrase "find file attached" in the body of the text, but not before Google mail asked me "did I intend to attach a file?". No I bloody didn't. And don't use that sarcastic tone. And why the hell are you listening in on me anyway? (I responded in my head).

It's a trivial thing, but if Google thinks its users will thank it forever for playing 'mother' in this way, it needs to consult a psychologist. This doesn't enhance the user experience - it's annoying and it's a reminder that big mother is always watching and putting 2 and 2 together to make god knows what.

Which is why we have to approach Google's latest wheeze with more than one eye on the "what's in it for them" angle. Anything Google does is usually about gathering more user data and its Chromecast plug-in will be no exception.

It's a cheap little stick (pictured) which plugs into a TV set's HDMI port. For $35 it turns any HD TV into a smart TV. Inside the stick is a full chrome browser so anything available on the Web can be WiFi'd to the stick and displayed on the TV. Google expects the stick functionality to eventually be embedded in the TV.

Chromecast has been greeted as a game-changer by many observers in the US because it appears to do for the TV/Web join what black boxes and syncing schemes of various types have so far failed to do - find a cheap, open and elegant way to enable user control.

This is to be done via downloadable apps to any device (Android iOS, PC etc). Apps can be built using the Google Cast software development kit (SDK). The idea is that once downloaded and paid for the user fires up the app on their personal device (phone, tablet. PC) so it serves as the remote control for things such as Netflix and YouTube on the HD TV.

But it's not just a mirroring approach. The mobile device just sets the stream off - in SDN parlance it looks after the control plane - the data plane is driven by the Chrome browser embedded in the Chromecast plugin.

This means that once the stream is set up its owner can wander off, or use his or her mobile for something else and the stream will play on. Anyone else can come in and instruct the chromecast onto another piece of content. Family evenings should be fun.

But in fact this is a rather important distinction - all the other products which do this type of thing tend to be about some sort of screen mirroring. Chromecast is a peer to its controlling device.

So what about the Google TV settop box announced a couple of years' back and agreed by most to have been one of Google's many clunkers? Despite lots of big talk from Schmidt, the box failed to take off (as, to be fair, have the TV efforts of rival Apple). Google says that Google TV will continue as before and may well get a boost.

In fact all efforts to somehow get the TV to play nice with the Internet (or perhaps the other way about) seem in permanent stumble - nobody's quite sure why. Maybe now Google has found the web/TV answer, we'll just have to understand that it will be collecting all our personal viewing habits at the same time.

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