There seems to be some outrage today over Google’s decision to block AllCast, an app that let Chromecast users stream their own photos and videos to the $35 TV dongle.
The hubbub began when Koushik Dutta, a developer best-known for his work on ClockworkMod, revealed that his AllCast app had been “intentionally” broken by Google. The app had allowed Chromecast users to send photos, videos and other files to the big screen using the “Share” button on their Android phones. It wasn’t as elegant as being to press a ready-made “Cast” button in your photo or video app of choice, but it was a crude solution for one of Chromecast’s most-requested missing features.
In a post on Google+, Dutta speculated that Google would only allow approved content to play through Chromecast. “The Chromecast will probably not be indie developer friendly,” he wrote. “The Google TV team will likely only whitelist media companies.”
Cue the opining about how Google isn’t open (as if it ever was), and the cries from disgruntled users who say they’re returning their Chromecasts en masse.
Dutta’s aggravation is understandable, and there’s reason to be concerned about Google’s decision. But some of this outrage is overblown.
For one thing, the inability to stream local files to Chromecast won’t last. In fact, Google said in a statement to The Verge that apps will be able to stream local content in the future. And you can already send local files to the television with the tab casting feature on the desktop version of Chrome–just drag a file from your desktop into any browser tab with the Cast extension running.
Furthermore, if Chromecast isn’t going to be friendly to indie developers as Dutta claims, why are Google’s app-building tools publicly available to anyone? And if Google is only going to whitelist media companies, why is Tic-Tac-Toe included among Chromecast’s sample applications? Google clearly recognizes the potential of Chromecast to go beyond music and video streaming from established media companies.
Let’s also keep in mind that Dutta reverse-engineered Google’s protocols and worked around the company’s whitelist restrictions, which were meant to block new apps until the final software development tools are available. Right now, no third-party developers are allowed to be releasing Chromecast support in their apps, except for Netflix. It’s not really surprising that Google wiped out whatever exploits were making it possible for Dutta to distribute his app.
But Dutta seems to be right about one thing, at least: Only approved content will work with Chromecast. That doesn’t mean smaller developers won’t be welcome — see Apple’s App Store as an example of a thriving indie development scene, with some restrictions — it just means that Google maintains some veto power.
Could Google use this power to block apps that enable piracy or other unauthorized streaming? Perhaps, but that might be a necessary trade-off if larger media companies like HBO and Hulu are going to develop their own official Chromecast apps. Catering to hackers and indie developers is important, but so is appeasing media companies who offer the apps that most people want. For Chromecast to be a success, Google will need to strike a balance.