Google's Chromecast menaces Apple TV

$35 gizmo may hamper Apple's 'hobby' business in the living room, say analysts

Google's new stream-to-TV Chromecast threatens rival Apple's efforts to gain a foothold in the living room, analysts said Wednesday.

But the $35 Chromecast hardware dongle -- and the move to integrate it with mobile apps and Google's Chrome browser -- is far from a mortal blow to Cupertino.

"I think this begins to threaten the Apple TV," said Ezra Gottheil, an analyst with Technology Business Research who covers both Google and Apple. "It goes right to the sweet spot, video that I can watch on a very hi-res screen. And it's looks like a nice product at a very reasonable price."

Charles Golvin of Forrester Research had somewhat the same reaction -- Chromecast menaces Apple TV -- but cautioned against taking that too far.

"Any of Apple's competitors, if they come up with a more elegant solution for that experience [of getting content onto your TV], is a threat to Apple," said Golvin. "Still, this is at such an early stage, it's not like this knocks Apple out of the game. This just raises the bar."

On Wednesday, Google introduced Chromecast at a California press briefing, touting the device and technology as a way to push content from the cloud to a television set without requiring yet another box with its snake's nest of cables. Initially, that content will be limited to video from Google Play Movies & TV, Netflix and YouTube; audio from Google Play Music; and whatever is displayed on a Chrome browser's tab.

Android tablets and smartphones, iPhones and iPads, as well as any device running the Chrome browser, serve as remote controls. Chromecast does not mirror locally-stored content to the TV, as does AirPlay and Apple TV, Apple's pairing. Instead, everything is drawn from online services or the Web, then shot straight to the TV via the Wi-Fi-enabled dongle without the bits hopping through another device.

The Chromecast dongle, which plugs into a TV's HDMI port, costs $35. It went on sale Wednesday at, and Google Play, and will reach Best Buy store shelves Sunday. Initial supplies quickly evaporated: Today, Amazon said the device was out of stock and Google Play listed it as shipping in three to four weeks. Only Best Buy showed Chromecast as available.

Chromecast isn't Google's first attempt to get into the living room. It was preceded by the much more ambitious, but now nearly moribund Google TV of 2010, and last year's aborted Nexus Q.

But analysts liked what they saw in the newest effort.

"Google is saying, 'Hey, you already have a device in your hands to control the experience,'" said Golvin. "Now they've gone a step further [than Nexus Q] and shrunken down the hardware so that it's basically invisible. There are tons of people with big-screen TVs, who have portable devices and broadband Wi-Fi in the house. Marrying these things in a natural and simple way to get content on that big-screen TV -- I think it moves the needle."

Apple TV, meanwhile, has not climbed out of the "hobby" basement that co-founder and former CEO Steve Jobs put it in, though Apple has sold millions of the devices. In May, CEO Tim Cook claimed his company had sold 13 million Apple TVs, about half of them in the past year.

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