Google’s Chromecast is quite the popular media streamer. According to the Mountain View-based company’s latest facts and figures, the malleable media dongle has sold impressively well — 17 million units to date, in fact — and managed to accrue a 20,000-strong app library. Considering the brand’s momentum, Google’s decision not to announce a beefed-up Chromecast successor at the company’s annual I/O conference was somewhat surprising. But perhaps in an effort to avoid the inevitable app fragmentation that could follow, Google’s instead choosing to focus on enhancements from which all Chromecast users can benefit: new software and development tools.
Chromecast is first and foremost a media consumption device, so it makes sense that the team at Google is focusing on making video and music playback even better. It’s introducing a new API that willl let apps like Netflix jump from one piece of content to the next seamlessly — while one video’s playing in a queue, the next can buffer in the background. Those queues will in some cases be manipulable — you’ll be able to re-order, add, and remove clips from queues, much like what’s possible in YouTube’s casting mode right now — but it will depend on the app’s back end.
The Chromecast may be a cheap piece of hardware, but it’s brimming with potential, so Google is beginning to explore new frontiers. Two new APIs, Game Manager and Remote Display, are aimed squarely at the gaming crowd. Game Manger makes it easier for developers to create multiplayer games like Google’s General Knowledge Quiz — “castable” games can now create sessions joinable by others and synchronized across players, regardless of mobile platform. Remote Display, on the other hand, is geared more towards single-player sessions — it can put interface elements like a HUD or virtual steering wheel on your television, for example.
Google has partnered with a few development houses to showcase the new capabilities. By far, the most impressive titles are Ubisoft’s Speedboat Paradise and Rolocule’s Motion Tennis. Speedboat Paradise has players navigate a tumultuous sea, displayed on TV, using their phones as steering wheels. Motion Tennis is set in a much calmer setting — a quiet grass tennis court — but potentially more demanding physically: you rally balls back and forth by swinging your phone.
The best thing about the Chromecast is its simplicity and low barrier of entry, said Google Cast Product Manager Nathan Camarillo to GamesBeat in an interview. “You don’t need to have eight GamePads lying around,” he said. “Everybody can pull a phone out of their pockets. They can initiate an app, connect to the TV, and play this great game together. They’re usually games that are easy to understand and you can learn really quickly.”
And that — along with a steady string of new services, including the recently announced HBO Now — is why Chromecast will likely continue to sell at a steady clip. A $35 dongle that handles most of the games families play on far more expensive consoles, after all, is a great value proposition.