There’s no “UI” in Chromecast, but we can fix that

Anoop Mohan — Senior Director, Product Management

Steve Ballmer’s long, slow exit has set off a torrent of discussion about what’s next at Microsoft.Apple-watchers are eagerly awaiting the arrival of the iPhone 5S, the iPhone 5C, or both. But when it comes to sheer tonnage lately, there are few news items out of Silicon Valley that have been written about and analyzed as much as Google Chromecast.

Just this week we read ABI Research’s report that Chromecast is driving the market for low-cost dongles and smart STBs well past original expectations.Our own take is that Chromecast—aside from being a beautiful device that’s priced to sell—is a recognition by Google that the benefits of streaming television user experiences from the cloud to the device are unequalled by device-based solutions.Read on for more observations, and how a Cloud UI could make Chromecast even better:

  • Google’s Chrome browser is growing faster than any competitor, but Google chose not to put the browser in the TV, or even in a CE device connected to the TV.Instead, Google opted for “Tab Casting,” an approach that uses the remote browsers in laptops.This underscores the ActiveVideo® position that moving processing and rendering out of the device—in our case, into the cloud—results in lower app development cost, faster time to market and ability to handle any future upgrades remotely.
  • After its Google TV experience, Google and ActiveVideo seem to share a common belief when it comes to enabling user experiences: that a remote or cloud-based approach eliminates the need for PC-like cost structures in the end device, increasing affordability and removing the need for content to be written for that specific device.
  • Google’s done a great job of keeping costs low by using in-house and open-source technologies, including WebRTC as the technology behind Tab Casting, but at the expense of user experience.We love the $35 price point, but we find the need while Tab Casting to use an open PC—not even a handheld device—somewhat cumbersome and we view the lack of a UI on the television as antithetical to TV’s tradition of being a social experience.
  • We’d also like to see the latency numbers come down.Unlike a cloud-based approach that uses high-end processing, Chromecast is vulnerable to the vicissitudes of CPU power and applications usage on the remote device, as well as network connectivity, leading to latency of several seconds or more.From our work in honing latency in our CloudTV™ software platform to a crisp sub-350 milliseconds (more details here), we’ve found that anything more than 500 milliseconds is unacceptable to viewers.

After a night of doing armchair research with the Mohan family, I can tell you this:Chromecast is a fascinating gadget, but even better would have been a shared experience of browsing and watching in a lean-back environment.If there’s one thing we’ve learned from our work with video providers and CE manufacturers, it’s that there’s a desire for solutions like CloudTV that improve the UI on TV, not for ones that eliminate it.

We understand that bringing a UI to Chromecast is hard, but we’ve proven that UIs can be decoupled from device resources to improve user experiences in low-cost devices. We’ll be happy to work with Google to create this scenario: a Silicon Valley newsflash that an improved version of Chromecast—one that brings UIs to the TV—is on its way.