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Power

Google’s next streaming device will shake up the Android TV world

The new dongle, with a content-centric user interface and possibly Nest-branded, is set to debut in the coming months.

Google

Google's decision to release a new streaming device can be seen as an effort to catch up with Roku and Amazon in the living room.

Photo: John Nacion/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Google is set to introduce an Android TV streaming device in the coming months, a reimagined dongle with a new user interface that will put a bigger emphasis on individual movies and TV shows as opposed to apps, multiple sources with knowledge of the company's plans told Protocol. The company will likely extend its Nest brand to the new device, according to one of those sources.

Google's decision to produce a new streaming dongle shows its desire to more aggressively compete with Amazon and Roku in the streaming hardware space. However, building an Android TV streamer in-house is certain to complicate Google's already strained relationship with third-party consumer electronics manufacturers, and its move toward a more content-centric interface may trigger backlash from some of the biggest streaming services.

A Google spokesperson declined to comment on the company's plans, which were described by sources who requested anonymity because they weren't authorized to speak on the record. Plans for the new streaming device were first reported by 9to5Google last month.

What we know about Google's next streaming dongle

Google's upcoming streaming device has been described as looking similar to a Chromecast streaming adapter, but will function more like a Roku or Fire TV stick. Whereas a Chromecast needs a phone to launch content, the new device will come with a full-fledged TV interface and ship with its own remote control.

Users will be able to install apps for streaming services like Netflix and Disney+ from Google's Play Store, and the device will be integrated with Google Assistant for voice control. Like other Android TV devices, it will allow users to cast content, and it is expected to support Google's Stadia cloud gaming service.

Google will market the device under a distinct brand, separating it from third-party streaming devices based on Android TV, according to two sources with knowledge of the company's plans. The company is considering using its Nest brand for this purpose, according to one of these people, which would be in line with Google's recent efforts to turn Nest into the umbrella brand for its smart home and entertainment hardware efforts.

It is still unclear when Google will unveil or release the device. The company was to host its annual Google I/O developer conference in Mountain View next week, but canceled the event as a result of the pandemic. One source said Google wanted to launch the device this summer, but cautioned that those plans may be delayed due to COVID-19-related supply chain interruptions.

In March, a regulatory filing for a Google-made remote control passed the FCC, leading some to assume that the release of the streaming device was imminent. However, it appears now that the filing is not related to the product, and instead is likely part of another hardware initiative. Google is said to be working on a new iteration of its Chrome OS-based teleconferencing hardware, according to a source familiar with those efforts, making it possible that the remote is an accessory for that product.

There is also no definitive word on pricing. Industry insiders told Protocol they expect the company to price it around or below $80. Google currently sells its Chromecast streaming adapter for $35, and charges $69 for a 4K-capable Chromecast Ultra.

Chromecast's decline and Google's strained hardware relations

Google's decision to release a new streaming device can be seen as an effort to catch up with Roku and Amazon in the living room, as well as a departure from Chromecast as a standalone product. Google introduced Chromecast in 2013, betting that consumers would be content to use their phones for content discovery and playback control.

While the aggressively priced Chromecast was initially a big hit with consumers, it lost out to more full-featured competing products. Chromecast's market share declined significantly over the years, according to recent data from Parks Associates, while both Roku and Amazon added customers for their respective streaming devices.

Chart: Courtesy of Parks Associates Inc.

As Chromecast was ceding ground to competitors, Google was growing its separate Android TV platform through partnerships with consumer electronics manufacturers and cable operators. The company struck licensing deals with six of 10 smart TV manufacturers as well as 140 pay TV operators worldwide.

Some of that success is linked to Google's use of contractual agreements to prevent smart TV and phone makers from using Amazon's Fire TV operating system, as Protocol was first to report in March. The company has long required manufacturers to sign contracts that prevent them from using any forked version of Android, including the Fire TV operating system, if they want to use Google's official version of Android and have access to the company's popular apps and services.

Those policies have stirred significant unease among Google's consumer electronics partners. The company's decision to directly compete with some of these licensing partners with a new Android TV device could further complicate these relationships.

Google is looking to appease TV manufacturers in particular by helping them cut costs. The next version of Android TV will come with significantly reduced hardware requirements, making it cheaper for companies to build smart TVs running the Android TV system, according to a source familiar with those efforts. That's a big deal in a market with razor-thin margins, and a possible blow to Roku, which has long wooed manufacturers by promising to save them money with lower hardware requirements.

Some streaming services resist content-forward interfaces

Google may also get pushback from content companies. The new version of Android TV, which will first be available on Google's new device, will feature a revamped user interface meant to highlight individual movies and TV shows, as opposed to apps. Two sources told Protocol that the new interface will look similar to Amazon's Fire TV home screen, which puts a bigger emphasis on individual titles, but also heavily emphasizes Amazon shows over competing fare.

Makers of streaming devices and platforms have long embraced the idea of ditching mobile-phone-like app grids for a more content-centric experience, but have faced resistance from publishers. Netflix in particular prefers to keep its content, as well as its subscribers, within its own app, and only reluctantly embraced content-forward user interfaces that could make it easier for customers to jump from a Netflix show to that of a competitor.

These types of power struggles can sometimes get in the way of consumers' experiences. For instance, the current version of Android TV features a "Play Next" row meant to aggregate the next episodes of shows a user is watching across multiple services. However, major services such as Netflix and Disney+ don't utilize Play Next, to the dismay of many Android TV watchers.

Google is now talking to major streaming services about supporting APIs for the upcoming version of Android TV. Addressing their concerns, and ultimately getting them to support a more content-focused interface, could be key to the success of the company's new streaming hardware.

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.

Sponsored Content

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

Viewers like you: How PBS is adapting to the streaming age

The public broadcaster has had considerable success on YouTube and other digital platforms. Now, it is looking to revamp pledging.

PBS has begun to talk to ad-supported video services, including some that distribute programming via free 24/7 channels, to help it compete in the streaming age.

Image: PBS

If there were a playbook for the streaming wars, it might read something like this: Take your most valuable assets, slap a plus behind your most recognizable brand name, and start counting the money.

For PBS, things aren't quite that easy. While the public broadcaster has made some inroads in streaming, it has been slower to embrace digital business models than some of its commercial competitors. But that could change in the coming months. PBS is in discussions to bring its app to additional platforms, including a new crop of ad-supported video services, and has plans to turn smart TVs into donation machines that could ultimately make the old-fashioned pledge drive obsolete.

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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.

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.

People

How Chess.com built a streaming empire

Twitch users watched 18.3 million hours of chess content in January, nearly as much as they consumed throughout 2019. Last week, chess even surpassed League of Legends, Fortnite and Valorant as the most-watched gaming category.

To date, Chess.com has over 57 million members.

Photo: William West/Getty Images

There's something inherently perverse in calling chess "open source." It's a bit like saying France "pivoted" from monarchy to republic, or that indoor plumbing was a "10x idea."

Nevertheless, it's true: Anyone has free rein to make a chess game.

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Hirsh Chitkara
Hirsh Chitkara (@ChitkaraHirsh) is a researcher at Protocol, based out of New York City. Before joining Protocol, he worked for Business Insider Intelligence, where he wrote about Big Tech, telecoms, workplace privacy, smart cities, and geopolitics. He also worked on the Strategy & Analytics team at the Cleveland Indians.
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