Of all Google's attempts to make headway into the world's living rooms, from the disappointing Google TV to the disastrous Nexus Q music system, the Chromecast media streamer is its first dedicated home entertainment success. So why is there still no sign of a Chromecast UK launch?
Simple, tiny and inexpensive, Chromecast is an efficient solution to a problem that few home entertainment manufacturers have nailed -- getting web content onto a living room TV. Though the small dongle (powered by USB and connecting through a HDMI port to your TV) has a number of dedicated video streaming apps, its ability to effortlessly throw a Chrome tab from your laptop or mobile to the TV is its best feature, letting you access the full wonder of the web with lean-back, coach-surfing ease. Costing just $35 (about £21), it's offered up at an impulse-purchase price too, making it all the more attractive.
Take a look at any Google Chromecast review and you'll find almost universal praise for the streamer (aside from its current lack of Android app screen mirroring, something that could change with the opening up of its SDK). And despite suggestion that an early 2014 UK Chromecast launch was on the cards back in December, Google is remaining tight-lipped. When we got in touch with a Google representative on the matter last week, we were simply told:
[Google has] no launch dates to share outside of the US at the moment thanks. Should that change, [Google will] be communicating it as far and wide as possible!
However, is using a US Chromecast in the UK a wise idea, as opposed to waiting for a UK-specific model to launch? That's a tough question to answer. Chromecast's Chrome tab-sharing feature is arguably its trump card, and that should work without issue in the UK. However, for the time being there are still few Chromecast-enabled video streaming apps, with only Google Play purchases, YouTube and Netflix available.
While this currently allows for parity with what's offered to US users, this year is expected to be a massive time of expansion for the Chromecast and its associated services, with far more media providers expected to jump onboard and offer Chromecast-enabled apps. With catch-up services an expected feature of all web-connected media devices in the UK (take the frustration surrounding the Xbox One's lack of iPlayer for instance), it's safe to assume that discussions with UK TV providers may currently be delaying a UK launch. Once that UK launch is set in stone, UK-specific catch-up services like the BBC iPlayer, 4oD and Demand 5 are likely to be developed for it. But, should a UK Chromecast launch eventually occur, there's no gaurantee that one of Google's streamers bought from the US, or imported through an Amazon seller or other avenue, would be compatible with any UK-orientated features, even if browser-mirroring can offer workaround access to catch-up providers.
At £44.95, the current Amazon seller's price isn't bank-breakingly expensive, but it's still significantly pricier than it is in the US, and also likely more expensive than the Chromecast would be should Google ever officially bring it here. To pay double for a US unit that may not have access to every potential UK feature is a tough sell at the moment, especially when capable alternatives such as the Roku serve UK interests in the same area very well, if without the neat browser features. The Apple TV box is a stalwart of the Cupertino company's output, and it too is said to be planning new features that would make it considerably more attractive, and feature rich (if more expensive) than Chromecast's current offering.
So it remains a painful waiting game in the UK. Google obviously has its sights set on total home domination, beyond search and beyond Android -- its recent Nest purchase confirms this. But while it holds back from a worldwide Chromecast roll-out, influence in the living room will remain out of its grasp.