Google threw down the gauntlet in the smart TV space Wednesday, introducing a new streaming video device that plugs into users’ televisions and lets them use their tablet, smartphone or laptop as a remote control.
The $35 device, called the Chromecast, is a two-inch dongle that fits into the television and lets users beam content to the big screen. But unlike other apps and services that let you display content on the biggest screen in your house — such as Apple’s Airplay feature -- the Chromecast works with multiple operating systems and lets consumers use other functions on their devices while streaming to the television.
At the San Francisco event announcing the new feature, Google’s vice president of product development, Mario Queiroz, said the video component will work with devices running Google’s Android mobile operating system, Apple’s iOS operating system and Chrome for Windows, Chrome for Mac and any device running the Chrome OS.
Many companies have been racing to find the best way to get content from mobile devices to the largest screen in the house. Microsoft’s newest game console, the Xbox One, is designed around the central function of streaming video and other multimedia content from one user device to another. Google itself has experimented with smart television products that can connect TVs to the Web and the company’s multimedia library. And it’s been rumored for years that Apple will update its Apple TV set-top box to enable more seamless sharing to the television — or that it might just make a smart television of its own.
With the features Google showed off Tuesday, that race just got a lot more competitive. The Chromecast not only works with a range of devices and Google’s own YouTube video site and music content, but also with popular services such as Netflix. The Washington Post announced Wednesday that it will be working with Google to broadcast online news PostTV videos.
Google said that support for more services, including Pandora, are coming soon.
The Chromecast is now available on Google Play, Amazon.com and BestBuy.com, and will be available in U.S. Best Buy stores starting July 28.
Google also announced a new Nexus 7 during the press event, touting the device as slimmer, faster and having the crispest display for a tablet of its size on the market.
Pre-order pages for new tablet are already up on the Web site for Best Buy. The Nexus 7 will be available next Tuesday with 16 GB or 32 GB of memory and packs a 5 MP rear-facing camera and a 1.2 MP front-facing camera. The 16 GB version will cost $229.99; the 32 GB version is $269.99. Best Buy, GameStop, Amazon and other major retailers will carry the tablet at launch.
Barra said that there will also be an LTE-enabled version with 32 GB of memory, which will be available in the coming weeks on AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile. It will cost $349.
The new tablet, made in partnership with Asus, will have an unlocked version that works on the LTE networks of AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile, said Google’s vice president of Android product management, Hugo Barra. The event was also streamed live over Google’s YouTube video site.
The new Nexus 7 owes its slimmer profile to smaller bezels around the screen, and runs a new update of Google’s Android operating system also announced Wednesday, Android 4.3 Jelly Bean.
The new operating system will ship with the new Nexus 7 and will also ship in an update to the Nexus 4, current Nexus 7 and Galaxy Nexus. It features upgrades such as better graphics processing, easier text input and support for additional languages, including Hindi and Swahili.
Google’s head of Android and Chrome, Sundar Pinchai, was at the event and discussed how Google is doing in the tablet market overall, saying that the company has hit 70 million tablet activations, and has 1 million apps on its Google Play store. Pinchai said that the original Nexus 7 accounted for about 10 percent of all Android tablet sales.
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