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July 28, 2013

Google ups ante in fight for smart TVs

Google is taking another swing at commanding the television with its new Chromecast, a low-cost accessory that plugs into a TV and allows users to stream video, share tabs from the Google Chrome browser, or play music from their smartphones, tablet or computer on the big screen.

The big selling point? The Chromecast lets users stream or share while also allowing the device to do other tasks.

With the Chromecast, analysts said, Google appears to have learned a lesson from some of its own missteps and those of its competitors. The small device, which fits into a TV's HDMI port, eliminates some of the usual frustrations with TV streaming. For example, while Apple TV and, to a lesser extent, the Xbox allow users to beam some content from their mobile devices to the television, the mobile devices then can't be used for anything else at the same time. Google says that the Chromecast will enable multitasking on the laptop, tablet or other device without interrupting what's streaming on the TV.

Chromecast also comes with built-in support not only for Google devices but also for Apple's iPhone and Google's Chrome browser on Macs and PCs. That means that nearly every television can now get a Google upgrade — a major shift for the competitive landscape, analysts said.

Now, said James McQuivey, a principal analyst at Forrester, "it's not a war of smart versus dumb TVs — it's a war of which smart TV."

The Chromecast hasn't caught up with the content offerings of competitors Roku and Apple TV — it launched with support for Netflix, but other popular services such as Pandora are yet to come, the company says. But during its announcement Wednesday, Google pointed out that it's easy for developers to add Chromecast support to their existing apps, which could have the double benefit of beefing up content for Chromecast quickly and giving apps on Google Play a little something extra that competitors don't offer.

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