In Chrome Versus Android, Chrome Wins

John Gruber:

So this is weird. Back when Chromecast was announced, I wrote that it doesn’t do something that Google made it seem like it did — stream video directly from your phone (or tablet) like AirPlay. But then it ends up it was capable of something like AirPlay, but it required a third-party app, so I linked to it.

But now Google has removed the API that made this possible. I don’t get it. I mean, no one loves to make “open always wins” jokes at Google’s expense like I do — I really enjoy pointing out the instances where Google, the self-professed corporate king of openness really isn’t open at all. But here I just don’t get it. Why block this? What am I missing?

I love Gruber, but I think his confusion (and he’s hardly alone) is a great example of what I wrote when the Chromecast was announced:

The surest route to befuddlement in the tech industry is comparing a vertical player, like Apple, with a horizontal one, like Google.

Vertical players typically monetize through hardware, only serve a subset of users, and any services they provide are exclusive to their devices. Horizontal players, on the other hand, monetize through subscriptions or ads, and seek to serve all users across all devices.

Start with Apple and Airplay: Apple makes money by selling iPhones and iPads, ergo, Apple TV’s best feature – Airplay – makes iPhones and iPads better and helps lock you in to iOS. To put it another way, the end goal is more iPads and iPhones, and Apple TV’s feature set flows from that.

Android, though, is not an end, but a means. As I wrote in The Android Detour:

For Google, Android was a detour from their focus on owning and dominating web services; it ensured that those services would be freely accessible in this new world of computing, including on the iPhones and iPads that were used liberally in nearly every keynote demo. And, now that Android is successful, Google is back to focusing on “the best of Google”.

I added in Understanding Google:

One could make the argument that Google can no longer control Android. I would contend they don’t even want to. In fact, that was the point. No one company will ever control mobile (or a great many other things that will run some variant of Android), but all mobile devices will access the web.

Given this, Google doesn’t have a particularly pressing motivation to ensure that Chromecast’s feature set makes Android better. And so, the original lack of “Airplay for Android” is no big deal.

Still, why block this app?

Most obviously, as Aaron Pressman points out,1 this is (real) beta software.

Beyond that, though, the app is potentially an affront to some of Google’s best customers/advertisers/partners. No one in the TV business has any interest in unbundling pay TV (note that all of the recent AppleTV channel additions require a pay-TV subscription), and Google has learned – painfully – that running an end around content providers is a sure route to disaster.

In short, Google does care about Chrome and about getting it on every screen, and thus would (gladly) sacrifice Android and its user experience.

Note: I read Google’s statement as mostly true; that said, if and when an SDK comes out, I bet it gives content owners the same right to not allow Airplay that iOS does.

This article was updated to add the point about beta software and, relatedly, soften the content angle language.

  1. And as I should have noted in the original version of the article