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Google’s new Chromecast aims to take on Amazon and Roku

The device brings together Chromecast and Android TV, and may integrate closely with other devices around the house in the future.

Google’s new Chromecast aims to take on Amazon and Roku

The new home screen experience, which the company calls "Google TV," is going to roll out to TV sets powered by Android TV next year.

Image: Google

Google is taking another stab at conquering the living room: The company officially unveiled its new streaming dongle, Chromecast with Google TV, Wednesday. The device, which retails for $49.99, combines Google's existing Chromecast tech with a redesigned Android TV interface that emphasizes content over apps, highlighting movies and TV shows from a variety of publishers directly on the home screen.

Many of the device's features were already known from a series of leaks, which included retailers selling the device ahead of its official Wednesday launch date, as well as an earlier Protocol report about its content-forward UI. More interesting than the hardware specs is what the device says about Google's ambitions for the living room and the evolution of the smart TV market.

The launch of the new streaming device comes a little over seven years after Google first introduced the original Chromecast streaming adapter. Shaped like a key and retailing for just $35, that first-generation Chromecast in many ways redefined the streaming device market. It paved the way for Roku and Amazon to also introduce inexpensive HDMI dongles, and it conditioned millions of users to think of their TV as a surface to watch content beamed from their phones, without any app galleries and menus on the TV screen.

The company sold "tens of millions" of Chromecast streaming adapters in the following years, Google Nest GM and VP Rishi Chandra recently told Protocol. However, Google also quickly hit a ceiling, with a significant number of consumers unwilling to give up on their remotes altogether. Case in point: A Chromecast-only generation of Vizio TVs flopped, forcing the company to change course and develop its own smart TV apps platform.

"We quickly realized: That was only one path," Chandra admitted. Google also invested in Android TV as an apps-based smart TV platform, and has since succeeded at licensing Android TV to seven of the 10 top-selling smart TV brands, as well as numerous pay TV operators across the globe.

The new Chromecast is in many ways an attempt to bring those two competing efforts together, and reenter the dongle market with a Google-made flagship device. "This is the biggest refresh of Chromecast in a while," said Chandra, who described the hardware release as "an opportunity to reset the market."

That type of reset is clearly aimed at Amazon and Roku, which have dominated the market for streaming devices in the U.S., with Amazon also being a formidable foe in Europe and other markets. Just last week, Amazon VP Marc Whitten announced that his company had sold more than 100 million Fire TV devices globally thus far. And while most TVs sold these days come with apps for Netflix, Disney+ and similar services built-in, there's still significant demand for external streaming adapters. "The dongle market actually continues to grow," Chandra said.

Still, for Google, that smart TV market is just as important, and the company's relationship with TV manufacturers hasn't always been smooth sailing. In private, industry insiders have expressed reservations about Google's renewed focus on its own hardware. The prospect of a Google-curated home screen that deemphasizes native apps has raised red flags with publishers, who could previously publish their own content recommendations directly to the Android TV home screen.

Android TV head Shalini Govil-Pai told Protocol that the new home screen experience, which the company calls "Google TV," is going to roll out to TV sets powered by Android TV next year. She said that the company was still working out details on how much TV makers will be able to customize the experience, including with content placements that may offer them additional revenue streams. "That's an ongoing discussion," she said. "In the end, the business models have to work for our partners."

Chandra described Google's decision to build its own streaming hardware as a way for the company to innovate faster, which could eventually also involve other devices and services. "It's a mistake to think of entertainment as only your TV," Chandra said, alluding to plans to integrate the new Chromecast more closely with other devices around the home. "It's a very different mindset of how we historically thought of this technology," he said.

Protocol | Fintech

Plaid’s COO is riding fintech’s choppy waves

He's a striking presence on the beach. If he navigates Plaid's data challenges, Eric Sager will loom large in the financial world as well.

Plaid COO Eric Sager is an avid surfer.

Photo: Plaid

Eric Sager is an avid surfer. It's a fitting passion for the No. 2 executive at Plaid, a startup that's riding fintech's rough waters — including a rogue wave on the horizon that could cause a wipeout.

As Plaid's chief operating officer, Sager has been helping the startup navigate that choppiness, from an abandoned merger with Visa to a harsh critique by the CEO of a top Wall Street bank.

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Benjamin Pimentel

Benjamin Pimentel ( @benpimentel) covers fintech from San Francisco. He has reported on many of the biggest tech stories over the past 20 years for the San Francisco Chronicle, Dow Jones MarketWatch and Business Insider, from the dot-com crash, the rise of cloud computing, social networking and AI to the impact of the Great Recession and the COVID crisis on Silicon Valley and beyond. He can be reached at bpimentel@protocol.com or via Signal at (510)731-8429.

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The future of computing at the edge: an interview with Intel’s Tom Lantzsch

An interview with Tom Lantzsch, SVP and GM, Internet of Things Group at Intel

An interview with Tom Lantzsch

Senior Vice President and General Manager of the Internet of Things Group (IoT) at Intel Corporation

Edge computing had been on the rise in the last 18 months – and accelerated amid the need for new applications to solve challenges created by the Covid-19 pandemic. Tom Lantzsch, Senior Vice President and General Manager of the Internet of Things Group (IoT) at Intel Corp., thinks there are more innovations to come – and wants technology leaders to think equally about data and the algorithms as critical differentiators.

In his role at Intel, Lantzsch leads the worldwide group of solutions architects across IoT market segments, including retail, banking, hospitality, education, industrial, transportation, smart cities and healthcare. And he's seen first-hand how artificial intelligence run at the edge can have a big impact on customers' success.

Protocol sat down with Lantzsch to talk about the challenges faced by companies seeking to move from the cloud to the edge; some of the surprising ways that Intel has found to help customers and the next big breakthrough in this space.

What are the biggest trends you are seeing with edge computing and IoT?

A few years ago, there was a notion that the edge was going to be a simplistic model, where we were going to have everything connected up into the cloud and all the compute was going to happen in the cloud. At Intel, we had a bit of a contrarian view. We thought much of the interesting compute was going to happen closer to where data was created. And we believed, at that time, that camera technology was going to be the driving force – that just the sheer amount of content that was created would be overwhelming to ship to the cloud – so we'd have to do compute at the edge. A few years later – that hypothesis is in action and we're seeing edge compute happen in a big way.

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Saul Hudson
Saul Hudson has a deep knowledge of creating brand voice identity, especially in understanding and targeting messages in cutting-edge technologies. He enjoys commissioning, editing, writing, and business development, in helping companies to build passionate audiences and accelerate their growth. Hudson has reported from more than 30 countries, from war zones to boardrooms to presidential palaces. He has led multinational, multi-lingual teams and managed operations for hundreds of journalists. Hudson is a Managing Partner at Angle42, a strategic communications consultancy.
Power

Google wants to help you get a life

Digital car windows, curved AR glasses, automatic presentations and other patents from Big Tech.

A new patent from Google offers a few suggestions.

Image: USPTO

Another week has come to pass, meaning it's time again for Big Tech patents! You've hopefully been busy reading all the new Manual Series stories that have come out this week and are now looking forward to hearing what comes after what comes next. Google wants to get rid of your double-chin selfie videos and find things for you as you sit bored at home; Apple wants to bring translucent displays to car windows; and Microsoft is exploring how much you can stress out a virtual assistant.

And remember: The big tech companies file all kinds of crazy patents for things, and though most never amount to anything, some end up defining the future.

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Mike Murphy

Mike Murphy ( @mcwm) is the director of special projects at Protocol, focusing on the industries being rapidly upended by technology and the companies disrupting incumbents. Previously, Mike was the technology editor at Quartz, where he frequently wrote on robotics, artificial intelligence, and consumer electronics.

Transforming 2021

Blockchain, QR codes and your phone: the race to build vaccine passports

Digital verification systems could give people the freedom to work and travel. Here's how they could actually happen.

One day, you might not need to carry that physical passport around, either.

Photo: CommonPass

There will come a time, hopefully in the near future, when you'll feel comfortable getting on a plane again. You might even stop at the lounge at the airport, head to the regional office when you land and maybe even see a concert that evening. This seemingly distant reality will depend upon vaccine rollouts continuing on schedule, an open-sourced digital verification system and, amazingly, the blockchain.

Several countries around the world have begun to prepare for what comes after vaccinations. Swaths of the population will be vaccinated before others, but that hasn't stopped industries decimated by the pandemic from pioneering ways to get some people back to work and play. One of the most promising efforts is the idea of a "vaccine passport," which would allow individuals to show proof that they've been vaccinated against COVID-19 in a way that could be verified by businesses to allow them to travel, work or relax in public without a great fear of spreading the virus.

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Mike Murphy

Mike Murphy ( @mcwm) is the director of special projects at Protocol, focusing on the industries being rapidly upended by technology and the companies disrupting incumbents. Previously, Mike was the technology editor at Quartz, where he frequently wrote on robotics, artificial intelligence, and consumer electronics.

Power

Cord cutting in 2020: Pay TV industry lost 5.5 million subscribers

Subscriber defections slowed toward the end of the year, but there's no end to cord cutting in sight.

The pay TV industry is undergoing a bit of a power shift.

Photo: Nicolas J Leclercq/Unsplash

The five biggest pay TV providers lost a combined 5.5 million subscribers in 2020, narrowly staying below the 5.8 million subscribers the companies collectively lost in 2019. Subscriber losses slowed a bit toward the end of the year, but pandemic-related cutbacks still hit the industry hard — and may have led to hundreds of thousands additional cancellations if not for industry-wide billing relief efforts.

The industry is undergoing a bit of a power shift, with pay TV subscribers switching from traditional operators like Comcast and AT&T to tech companies like Google and Hulu and their respective pay TV services. However, a closer look at pay TV trends suggests that these gains may be temporary, as so-called skinny bundles fall out of favor with consumers once operators are forced to increase their price tags to make up for ever-increasing network licensing costs.

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Janko Roettgers

Janko Roettgers (@jank0) is a senior reporter at Protocol, reporting on the shifting power dynamics between tech, media, and entertainment, including the impact of new technologies. Previously, Janko was Variety's first-ever technology writer in San Francisco, where he covered big tech and emerging technologies. He has reported for Gigaom, Frankfurter Rundschau, Berliner Zeitung, and ORF, among others. He has written three books on consumer cord-cutting and online music and co-edited an anthology on internet subcultures. He lives with his family in Oakland.

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