The Hills Are Greener: Google Pulling the Rug Out From Under AirPlay?

The Hills Are Greener: Google Pulling the Rug Out From Under AirPlay?

Aug 5, 2013

I predict that in a year from now, the Chromecast will be the dominant way to beam video from smart devices to TVs. Sure, that’s not really a bold prediction: we’re talking about $35 HDMI dongles versus a $99 box from Apple, but still, considering that Apple had possibly the biggest stake in the game so far.

Of course, the reason why is the very same reason why Android has a bigger market share than iOS, but why Apple generally wins the profit battle: Apple’s more concerned with building out its own ecosystem. Apple wants its users to buy more Apple products that interact with each other, and little things like AirPlay (still a ‘hobby’ to them) are steps in that direction. Plus, they encourage brand loyalty because it’s hard to break free of things like iMessage and iCloud.

The difference here is that Google wants to all but yoink AirPlay out from under its feet by not just making a platform for streaming from Android, but from iOS and Mac as well. They’re jumping on Apple’s turf and there’s nothing they can do about it at this point. By almost-stealthily putting the APIs in and launching right away, they’ve managed to get a foothold on iOS, and they have made their little streaming stick compelling to everyone.

Chromecast-CastIconIn a sense, that’s what Google has to do: they’re a service company, and their hardware has to find a way to support their services. So they are better off with making sure that their hardware can push their services. After all, they’re all about data and the collection thereof, and anything that increases their ubiquity is a win to them. If it happens on the backs of iPhone and iPad users, then, hey – nothing wrong with that.

Of course, it all provides subtle pushes toward Android. Like Chromecast but want the ability to control it from the notification bar? Why, we provide that handy feature for you! Like Google Now in the Google app? Wouldn’t it be better if it could be accessed through a system-level gesture or button? Hey, Android provides that!

But ultimately, Chromecast just might win because Google is not only providing a compelling reason to buy its hardware, but it’s also making sure that everyone can take part, and developers will have plenty of reasons to develop for it. And because Apple has yet to explode with AirPlay, Google might just be the dominant player after all.

The Hills Are Greener: Google’s Clever Chromecast Gambit

The Hills Are Greener: Google’s Clever Chromecast Gambit

Jul 29, 2013

Google finally just did something really interesting in trying to win the battle of beaming media to TVs: they decided to go mass-market. Chromecast is an absolutely genius move from Google.

Apple could and arguably should have won this already. The Apple TV and AirPlay could have dominated, and for all intents and purposes, has been the winner by default. Samsung’s AllCast has barely made a blip, and Miracast has limited interest so far. But yet, since Apple has taken AirPlay to just be a hobby to this day, there’s been a gap still. And Chromecast could fill it because no death blow has been made yet.

The price has a lot to do with what the Chromecast can do: $35 is budget and impulse-buy friendly. I hardly ‘need’ a Chromecast (though owning one for work purposes is a good idea) and I bought one pretty much instantaneously. That it sold out instantaneously means that there’s definite consumer interest there too, even just as a curiosity. Turn any TV into a smart TV for $35? Sure! And it’s cheaper than most other solutions out there. That’s a scary price, and one that will likely get other streaming services scrambling to get Chromecast-compatible.

Chromecast-CastIconBut most importantly, Google is focusing on content to start off with. There’s the ability to beam any Chrome page to a TV, quite possibly including video elements. This could serve as a great springboard for the Play video service. And most importantly, they got Netflix, the kahuna of streaming video services, at launch. Without Netflix, this thing is a heap of garbage.

Google used a bit of smoke-and-mirrors to pull off the reveal too. They’ve conveniently not shown the USB power cable that extends out of the Chromecast to power it. They also announced the free 3 months of Netflix that were taken away when they ran out of codes a day later due to high demand. Should they try to reinstate it? Such a move would be clever (and would make it a no-doubter proposition for Netflix subscribers who would end up basically paying $11 for the device), but may not be prudent in the long term.

Oh, and this all works cross-platform. Chromecast will work with seemingly anything built to support it as Google (or hackers) allow it. It’s not just about the edge case of mirroring or streaming, it’s about users being able to get the content they want on their TV easily. And Google’s going to get them to do it cheaply and with Google products.

What Google does with Chromecast over the next year, if they can turn it into the big push-to-TV standard based on price, will be interesting. But they’re off to a big start, because their biggest competitor failed to pin the market when they had the advantage.

The Hills Are Greener: Androids Everywhere!

Android is everywhere nowadays in often-unofficial forms. Sure, it’s showing up in plenty of tablets that don’t ship with Android Market access or any other kind of Google service, but it’s also starting to show up in some unexpected places, like e-book readers. Yes, even ones with e-ink screens, not devices like the Nook Color and Nook Tablet that are just e-readers in name only. The Nook Simple Touch is one such device that uses Android to power its operating system. It’s not entirely made public, though some elements like the wifi screen use similar language as Android’s built-in wifi settings. Most notably, the Android web browser is buried in the software. Plus, it can be rooted to run a variety of apps on it. Angry Birds on a low-refresh e-ink screen? Sounds like…fun?

It’s uses like this that make me think that Android could someday be truly ubiquitous, because of the fact that such diverse hardware can run it. It’s on phones, tablets, portable media players, set top boxes, and with Intel’s Android-capable Atom E6XX processors, it could be on even more devices. As the recently-released Are You Watching This? shows, Android applications can be used pretty much anywhere, and can interact across their various hardware types in unique ways.

As Android comes to more devices, thanks in part to its open source nature, this may help it achieve a Windows-esque ubiquity. As well, if consumer hardware is running it, this will make it more likely for developer support given the common OS. This will happen at the pace of how hardware manufacturers will integrate Android in their hardware, but if and when the consumer market is ready for more integrated technology – Google TV has had rocky beginnings in terms of sales of third party boxes like the Logitech Revue. However, there’s still reason to be optimistic about Android’s future in consumer hardware. Consumers have never responded well to set-top boxes – even Steve Jobs wasn’t optimistic about them.

A reminder that Apple sells the iOS-powered Apple TV 2. As pure opinion, it’s very handy for iPad 2 owners: using AirPlay to beam video and mirror the screen without any cable is very handy. It has sold over 2 million units as of April 2011. Steve Jobs may have been wrong about the set-top box.

Still, iOS will never see the kind of ubiquity in hardware that Android possibly could – and I imagine Apple is fine with that as they control the OS entirely. Google might not have entire control of what Android does, but by its open source nature, that was the point. And ultimately, as Android spreads, and more developers create apps for it, and more itneresting hardware uses Android, that’s ultimately good for Google, and good for users, as it will be easier for technological innovations to make our lives easier thanks to a common and open operating system.

DoubleTwist AirSync Review

DoubleTwist AirSync Review

Nov 1, 2011

This review is one part of my two part look at Mac compatible/WinAmp alternatives for wirelessly syncing music to your phone. Because doubleTwist is one of the more highly used programs, I figured that a full Rundown would be appropriate.

DoubleTwist comes in with a lot of hype. There are three parts to the full package: one iTunes-like desktop app, a free media player app, and a $4.99 AirSync app that’s basically an add-on to the media player. The aim for doubleTwist is to be the Android version of Apple’s iTunes and iCloud service. It comes close, but there’s no way for Android to replicate the success and simplicity of their Macintosh counterpart.

Starting with the desktop application, I’ll say this first: I am an iTunes slave. I’ve tried multiple other media players but I always end up reverting back to iTunes eventually. I admit that iTunes is bloated and needs a rewrite, and I thought that any new media player would have to be faster and smaller. Shockingly, I was proven wrong with the doubleTwist media player. I’ve uninstalled/reinstalled this program a few times on my MacBook Pro but it doesn’t seem to alleviate the sluggishness through the menus, and the program will frequently lock up for 30 seconds before working again. The program also takes longer to load than iTunes, which I wasn’t even aware was possible. Without the Android AirSync app, however, doubleTwist does do a good job of wired syncing; it organizes your files accurately within the Music folder on your phones SD card. But a means to easily put music on your phone is the only thing this application should be used for. This is not an iTunes replacement, even though it tries to be. It also hijacks the play and next/previous buttons when closed but not fully quit which can be very frustrating.

Fortunately, the mobile app fares better. The mobile media player is very capable, and has a very elegant lock screen widget. There isn’t much to set this app apart from other mobile media players like WinAmp, but like I said in my review for UberMusic, if you want a basic media player to replace an iPod, this will do the job handedly. There are many complaints of sluggishness and “glitchiness” on the Android market, but in my experiences with it I have not found any problems on my HTC EVO 4G. There is an add-on to the media player that adds Gracenote album art automatically and allows for an advanced equalizer. But for $5.99 it kind of seems like a raw deal.

Finally, the last part of this package is the separate $4.99 AirSync application. This application basically allows you to wirelessly sync music, photos, and videos to your Android phone over a home network. Setting up AirSync with doubleTwist is easy enough, but I would like to see it simplified down a little bit more. I can easily see less experienced users having a hard time getting doubleTwist to recognize their phone. I was impressed with the speed that my files were synced over to my phone. It took less then a minute to sync a 19 song album to my phone, which is faster then it takes to do the same thing wired. I had no problem is having other media players recognize the files, which means that even if you do not like the mobile player or the desktop app, you only have to use them to transfer your files.

The final aspect of this app is its integration with the Xbox 360, PS3, and Apple TV. Surely, the Apple TV feature can’t be true. Streaming music from your Android phone onto an Apple TV? No way. Well yeah, it’s true. DoubleTwist easily streams your videos, photos, and music to Apple TV. It’s not perfect; when a song is playing, no info appears, displaying just a black screen, but come on. Close enough. Even better is the streaming to the Xbox 360. Your phone appears under the list of drives when you open the music tab and the songs start playing instantly after selecting them. This actually surprised me. One problem is that the AirPlay feature will stay on even when DoubleTwist is closed which will drain your battery, so just make sure to turn it off when done.

Overall, DoubleTwist is a good Winamp alternative if you can deal with some fairly noticeable problems, even though I’d recommend TuneSync if simply wirelessly syncing music is what you’re after.