Google Takes On Apple With Chromecast, Android 4.3

Jul 25, 2013 (05:07 AM EDT)

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Tablet Buying Demystified: 10 Tips
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Tablet Buying Demystified: 10 Tips
Speaking at a media event in San Francisco, Calif., Google's head of Android and Chrome, Sundar Pichai, said that tablets are following the same explosive growth trend as smartphones. "It's a multi-screen world for our users," he said.

To adapt to the multi-screen world, Google has introduced a single point of unification, Chrome OS, embedded in a hardware-based adapter called Chromecast. The device is a two-inch wireless receiver that plugs into TVs, through the HDMI port, to stream content from the cloud, from mobile devices or from personal computers.

Google added to the multitude of screens with the simultaneous introduction of a high-resolution version of its Nexus 7. The tablet ships with Android 4.3, a revised version of Android 4.2 known as Jelly Bean.

Chromecast can display content from devices running Google's Chrome browser using Android, Chrome OS, iOS, OS X or Windows, as well as from mobile apps that have integrated code from the Google Cast SDK, which supports Android, iOS, OS X and JavaScript.

[ Related story: Google Nexus 7: Small Tablet To Beat. ]

"Unlike other solutions, we will not force you to have the same OS on all your devices," said Mario Queiroz, VP of product management.

That's a reference to Apple. As a technological bridge from mobile device screens to television screens, Chromecast competes primarily with Apple's AirPlay software and $99 Apple TV hardware. Although Apple has an edge over Google in installed base — the company has sold over 13 million Apple TV devices to date — Google has blunted that edge through pricing: The Chromecast is available for a mere $35.

The Chromecast works with Android 2.3+, iOS 6.0+, Windows 7+, Mac OS 10.7+ and Chromebook Pixel, with additional Chromebook support coming soon. It transmits video content at up to 1080p resolution via its HDMI port and draws power through its USB port via the connected device or an external power adapter. It supports 2.4-GHz Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n.

Mobile apps for Google Play Movies & TV, Google Play Music, Netflix and YouTube currently can send content to TVs via Chromecast. Other apps such as Pandora are expected to support Chromecast soon.

Android 4.3 includes four major new features: Restricted Profiles, which improve the Android tablet experience in multi-user environments by supporting parental controls and usage limitations when devices are used as point-of-sale hardware; Bluetooth Smart, otherwise known as Bluetooth LE, a low-power mode suitable for interfacing with wireless sensors; OpenGL ES 3.0, the latest generation of open mobile graphics display technology; and Media DRM APIs, for presenting content with hardware-based encryption.

Android 4.3 arrives on the revised Nexus 7. Powered by a quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Pro processor and 2 GB of RAM, the new Nexus 7 is available at three different prices: $229 for the 16-GB Wi-Fi model, $269 for the 32-GB Wi-Fi model and $349 for the 32-GB model with global 4G LTE support. The tablet weighs 0.64 lbs (290g) and promises nine hours of HD video playback and 10 hours of Web browsing. Its 1920-pixel-by-1200-pixel HD screen (323 ppi), Google claims, has the highest resolution of any 7-inch tablet.

Google says it will be distributing Android 4.3 as an over-the-air update to previously released Nexus 4, 7, 10 and Galaxy Nexus devices.

Google tried to conquer the living room with Google TV, hardware from Google's partners for running Android applications on a television. But Google TV has been poorly received, partly due to pricing and partly due to the fact that running Android apps on dedicated TV peripherals (or integrated hardware) doesn't really improve the TV experience or the app experience.

Google isn't yet ready to abandon Google TV. Company engineers at Wednesday's press event insisted Google TV will continue. But Chromecast reframes the nature of the competition. It puts television inside Chrome, where Google has a home field advantage.

Smart TVs — TVs with connected processors for running applications locally — look like they will continue to struggle in the living room. But dumb TVs — screens that just display what they're told, regardless of source — appear to have a bright future.