Google's $35 Toy Can Change the World

It was a deal too good to be true. Google (NASDAQ: GOOGL  ) introduced Chromecast on Wednesday. The small $35 gadget plugs into a TV's HDMI port, allowing it to pull video and audio from smartphones, tablets, and laptops. Folks using the Chrome browser can even blow up their computing sessions on the bigger television screen. Any device sharing the same Wi-Fi network -- yes, Wi-Fi is required -- can zap content right into any TV with an available HDMI port.

The world's leading search engine inexplicably thought it needed to give early adopters a reason to fork over that fair ransom. It decided to purchase a bunch of three-month subscriptions from Netflix  (NASDAQ: NFLX  ) and package them into the deal. 

When Chromecast sold like hotcakes -- or, perhaps, like dirt-cheap TV gadgetry that's made even cheaper when accounting for the $24 (plus tax) value of three months of Netflix for new or existing subscribers -- it put an end to the promotion. 

In a rare social blunder for Google, Chromecast's success found it retreating from the promo within a day of introducing the mother of all connected TV deals. It ran out of the three-month trials, reportedly, and there was no reason to keep that marketing carrot going.

Will sales slow down now that the effective $11 price of a Chromecast has ballooned to $35? Sure, some folks who were bent on buying before seeing Google pull the rug from under the Netflix deal may hold back on principle.

However, it won't take long before they realize how sweet a deal $35 can be. Sure, Chromecast is limited in functionality right now. Google's own YouTube and Netflix are the star attractions of the platform. Apple's (NASDAQ: AAPL  ) Apple TV has far richer features, but some of the best Apple TV goodies are reserved for the minority of connected users on iOS. Apple TV also costs nearly three times as much.

Roku, meanwhile, is a full-featured operating system-agnostic platform, but it's not as cheap as Chromecast. Roku also isn't Google given the marketing muscle that Big G has at its disposal.

Chromecast could be the cord-cutter tool we've been waiting for. It's cheap enough to set a TV buff back just about a week's worth of the average cable or satellite television bill from the larger providers. Outside of live sports -- which may be the only thing keeping pay TV afloat these days -- streaming has become a viable option. If you're watching just a couple of current shows, picking up the episodes on a piecemeal basis and filling the lulls with the growing digital catalog at Netflix and the seemingly endless realm of clips on YouTube won't be such a shabby experience. 

Google knows what it's doing. It's putting out a cheap device that helps propel the popularity of Chrome as a browser. It eats into Apple's initiatives and potentially undermines Apple's plans for charging an iArm and an iLeg for its inevitable full-blown smart television rollout.

Chromecast also keeps people online when they crave entertainment. Ideally, it will funnel more consumers into Google's ecosystem.

This is the start of something special, and like so many other disruptive salvos, it began with a deal that was too good to be true.

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