Hardware sales account for a negligible portion of Google Inc.’s (NASDAQ:GOOGL, GOOG) revenue, but do have an indirect impact on Google stock. Such products are a key part of the Mountain View, Calif.-based company’s strategy for hooking customers into its ecosystem, where Google can monetize customers via advertising.
Google unveiled two new Nexus phones, the Nexus 5X and the Nexus 6P, while offering a few more details on the latest version of Android, dubbed “Marshmallow,” which launches next week.
Neither phone is made by Google itself. LG Electronics makes the 5.2-inch Nexus 5X, and Huawei Technology Co. makes the 5.7-inch Nexus 6P.
While the new phones offer some nice improvements – a camera better able to shoot photos in low light, a new type of USB that charges the device in half the time, and an Android feature called Doze that increases battery life by 30% when the device is dormant – there was no “wow” factor.
But that can’t be said for Google’s Chromecast, an upgrade of a $35 device that debuted in 2013. The Google Event debuted a new Chromecast with a new shape (circular), faster Wi-Fi, and much better remote control via any smartphone.
Google Chromecast Is Small but Mighty
Unlike some other Google ventures into hardware, Chromecast has seen some success, with the first version selling 20 million units.
A model of simplicity, the new Chromecast is a circular device just 2 inches in diameter. It streams video content to your TV via Wi-Fi, attaching by means of an HDMI plug. And it still costs just $35.
But Google is thinking you’ll prefer to use your smartphone. It’s a window into how Google intends to compete in the so-called war for the living room.
Here’s how Chromecast fits into a larger Google strategy…
“Your favorite apps, with all of the rich features, they’re already on your phone. You’re already logged in,” Mario Queiroz, Google’s vice president of product management for Chromecast, told The New York Times. “And so we believe one really and effective way to bring apps to TV, to bring content through apps to TV, is just to extend the mobile apps on your smartphone.”
In fact, Chromecast is compatible with online video apps like Netflix Inc. (Nasdaq: NFLX), HBO Now, and Showtime.
With Chromecast, the Game Is Afoot
And not only can you control Chromecast with your phone, but you can transmit games from your phone to the TV – while still using the phone as a controller.
It’s no coincidence that both Apple TV and the Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT) Xbox 360 can stream Internet video as well as play games.
With Chromecast, Google has ensured it will be a player as the role of Internet-based TV grows. It’s a smart move.
The Google Event also introduced a new Chromecast product, Chromecast for Audio, today. Instead of an HDMI plug, this Chromecast has a standard 3.5mm audio plug and is designed to plug into a speaker or sound system.
The idea is to give customers a way to broadcast the music on their mobile devices (or from streaming services like Pandora Media Inc. (NYSE: P) and Spotify) to a speaker via Wi-Fi so others in the room can hear it. Chromecast for Audio is also $35.
And there was more…
Other Google Event Announcements
The other significant hardware announcement at the Google Event was the Pixel C tablet hybrid. It’s an interesting shift for Google, which previously had produced a Pixel machine that ran on the Chrome OS it uses in its netbooks.
The 10.2-inch screen is larger than the 9.7-inch iPad Air but smaller than the 10.6-inch Microsoft Surface. But like the Surface, the Pixel C has a detachable keyboard.
The Pixel C is a clever device, apparently intended as a “reference platform” to inspire other hardware makers to build similar Android-based hybrids.
The Pixel C will cost $499 with an extra $149 for the keyboard – in the same ballpark as the Surface 3.
There were also a couple of “cloud” announcements at the Google Event:
- Google Play Music: Google’s music subscription service offered an answer to Apple Music by adding a $14.99 a month family plan option for up to six subscribers. That’s exactly what Apple offers, but Google Play Music works on both Android and Apple devices for “mixed” households.
- Google Photos: Google’s free cloud-based photo service got two upgrades today. First, it will allow users to create a shared photo album that lets multiple people add photos for all to view. And second, it will integrate with Chromecast so users can transmit photos from their mobile devices to their TV screen.
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