If you’re concerned about Google neglecting Chromecast lately, take heart: The tech giant has not forsaken the $35 TV stick. On the contrary, this week the company finally delivered on Backdrop, a new feature it first promised at the Google I/O developer conference last June.
Chromecast’s answer to smart screen savers, Backdrop’s concept is pretty simple: When the device isn’t being used to stream Netflix, Pandora or other streaming options, it flows in photos, news headlines and other items.
Chromecast previously displayed photos in standby mode before, but now it can pipe pics from your Google+ albums or Google Earth, as well as weather info and pre-selected art and news from the likes of The New York Times, The Guardian and Saveur.
There’s only one down side: You only have control over a single area, your Google+ photos. The rest are chosen for you.
This lack of customizability seems like a missed opportunity. Developers would probably love having access to the standby mode of the biggest screen in the house. And customers would then get to personalize more of their Backdrops—perhaps with different feeds and artwork.
As it is, other companies—like ArtKick and new online art contender Depict—are already exploring how our TVs can function as hifalutin picture frames for photos or art. Right now, both support casting, or sending media, to Chromecast-connected televisions. But that requires action on the part of users. Neither have access to the device’s (potentially valuable) screensaver mode.
Perhaps Google will open it up at some point. After all, even though things have been fairly quiet on the Chromecast front these past couple of months, it’s still a popular TV streaming device, and development has been on an upward climb.
According to analytics firm App Annie, its app is the most popular for the “connected devices” category, and it has returned to the top of Amazon’s best-selling electronics list. Much of that has to do with its impulse-buy price tag of $35. Not bad for a streaming gadget by a major technology company—especially since it’s bound to get even better over time.
Google’s Chromecast engineering team announced that the TV stick will get ultrasonic pairing and broader expansion for the TV Queue that has been, so far, limited to YouTube. In the mean time, the apps just keep on coming. The latest ones include WATCH Disney Channel, Twitch, iHeart Radio and DramaFever.
Lead image by Adriana Lee for ReadWrite; all others courtesy of Google