For the past couple days, I've been playing with Google's new $35 device for your TV, the Chromecast. It works simply: You plug it into the back of your TV and a power source, hook it up to the wifi through your computer, and thereafter, you can toss ("cast") anything from a Chrome browser tab to the television.
While friends of the blog like Wired's Mat Honan are excited about the "miracle device," others like Buzzfeed's John Hermann think it's no great shakes. John Gruber argues, "I just don't get why anyone would want this."
Viewed largely as a video transmission gadget, Gruber's point is well taken. There are at least two good options for getting computery video onto a TV: Apple TV (at $99) and Roku (at $50). Chromecast is $35. The Apple TV has Airplay and is all-around a bit more capable (though no Flash allowed). The Roku lets you access Netflix and Amazon Instant Video, and it works fine.
But I don't think Chromecast is just for video. It's for anything. It's fun and a little magical to be able to cast literally anything to your biggest screen. Sure, there's Netflix or a streaming music service like Rdio or Spotify. But there's also a random YouTube video embedded in a blog post. There's the New York Times. There's pornography and the Prelinger Archives and your Gmail and big old PDFs and barackobamaisyournewbicycle.com. You can put anything on that screen, and Google makes it feel effortless.
I know putting stuff from your computer or phone screen onto your TV is not novel. I've had a Roku box and plenty of display adapters for a long time. But when something works as easily as Chromecast does, the capability becomes more real. You think of it.
To me, Chromecast doesn't so much "solve a problem" so much as create a new one: Why can't I put my content, whatever it is, on any screen I encounter, at the touch of a button? After only two days of using Chromecast, I feel like that's how the technological world should work.
Will the Chromecast be a commercial success? I have no idea. Google's marketing thus far has been a little boneheaded. But I like it, and it works as advertised, and it makes me feel like I'm a little further into the future. For $35, that's a good deal.