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With New Chromecast, Google Takes Another Shot at TV, Home Media

New hardware shows Google taking a very Sundar approach.

Tyler Pina for Re/code

If Sundar Pichai, the newly christened CEO of Google, wants to leave any imprint on the company, it is to position it as one that delivers a top-notch, consistent user experience across all its products. So far, that has not been the case with Google’s efforts around television, which have been, to put it generously, schizophrenic.

But based on Google’s latest hardware event Tuesday, it seems Pichai et al. have picked their horse for media streaming: The Chromecast device.

Google unveiled two new versions of the device, along with an Android tablet and two new Nexus phones, one built with strategic hardware partner Huawei. But it was the streaming devices — including Chromecast Audio, Google’s cheap ($35) entrant into music — that took the lion’s share of the show in San Francisco.

Pichai teased the new devices onstage at the onset, leaning, as he did at the developers conference in May, on Google’s deployment of machine-learning tech. “We’ve taken a very different approach to computing with the living room,” he said. “We do it using Chromecast, and it bets on the phone as the center of your experience.”

Mario Queiroz, VP, Product Management, Google
Mario Queiroz, VP, Product Management, Google
Tyler Pina for Re/code

Google shared new sales figures for the streaming stick — 20 million devices shipped — and introduced new software search functions that put it on par with competitors Roku, Amazon and Apple. That’s an impressive number of shipments, more than twice the number Roku recently reported. It’s particularly notable for the search giant, which has never flourished at hardware.

Still, 20 million pales in comparison to the hundreds of millions in the TV audience who are expected to switch to over-the-top viewing in the coming years. And Google is in a very crowded market of new and old media powerhouses.

Google also introduced Chromecast Audio, a circular dongle that plugs into speakers. While the Chromecast device isn’t Google’s first stab at TV, neither is Chromecast Audio its first stab at music streaming. Remember Nexus Q? Google released the device in 2012 only to shutter it quickly, noting the “feedback from users that they want Nexus Q to do even more than it does today.” Presumably, Google feels its new device does all that, and can gain a foothold in a similarly crowded market.

Google’s strategy is to lean on its operating system. You can see it in Chromecast’s deeper ties with the latest version of Android. The audio device is linked directly to the servers of the streaming services, rather than with Bluetooth, letting users more easily control listening with their phone. On Tuesday, Google announced the device was integrated with Google Photos, which has added shared updates, including an impressive album sharing feature — a trait that exemplifies Pichai’s vision.

Despite kicking off the event, Google’s CEO didn’t linger or even bookend the event. Instead, he surrendered the stage to lesser-known execs, including David Burke, an Android VP behind Nexus, and Anil Sabharwal, the director of Google Photos. Andrew Bowers, a hardware product manager and one of the new faces, introduced Google’s new tablet, the first to run fully on its Android software, rather than the Chrome OS.

Displaying the device, Bower captured Google’s theme of the morning neatly. “We’re making it easier than ever to move between screens in your life, whether it’s the phone in your pocket or the TV in your living room.”

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