We imagine any new tech thing takes a lot of planning, a lot of money, and a lot of time. The push to get Google into the living room certainly did. Ideas to expand Android and use new technology in your home were being kicked around out loud in front of groups of developers as far back as 2011. We've discussed Google's plans for living room domination almost as far back as that on our podcast. It was never a secret, but in 2017 it might actually happen.
A lot of people have written some really smart words about Google's movement into places where you and your family and friends hang out and relax. I've spent the majority of the year in anticipation, afraid to jinx it by writing anything of my own. I was afraid that Google wouldn't be able to do the most important thing they needed to do to get into those places: nail the experience. They have to get that right to have any chance of success with a unified push for everything Google where you work and play.
Getting it right doesn't mean getting it perfect. It means showing everyone who uses it that it's a foundation for something that not only does what we need but makes it easy and fun. And Google did nail it.
Google Cast, Google Home, and Google Wifi feel like they belong together when you use them. You could add Nest and Android TV to that list and enthusiasts would agree. None of the devices or services are perfect, and even Google Cast has its quirks and can be stubbornly stupid sometimes. But you really do feel as if these products were made for each other in a way that no other Google products have. Articles and debate about what they do wrong or how they match up to the competition are important to have but often overlook the bigger picture that these are great products that everyone only expects to become better. They don't need to be fixed or redone, they need to be refined and more great features need to be added on top of the great features already there. Nothing is broken.
We didn't arrive here overnight. Chromecast started as a small idea with a goofy name and has taken some time to get where it is today. Google spent a year learning what people wanted from a router. And they've been trying to be smart and build something you want to talk to for at least a couple years. These past products were all good in their own right, but mostly lacked the broad consumer appeal needed to be successful in the homes of folks who weren't waiting for the next thing from Google they could buy and just wanted cool stuff. This year, they finally reached that "just cool stuff" status for everyone.
Google's current crop of hardware products are all better versions of things we have been using for a while.
That makes 2017 an important year for Google in a new way. With the products and technology ready to convince the consumer at large that it's time to buy them and increased presence in advertisement and stores, the cost of doing things wrong has skyrocketed. Each decision and each change in the way Home, Wifi and Cast work or even feel when using them has to be great and make everything better to carry this momentum to more cash registers and more coffee tables. A major gaffe or fundamental change to the way things work — things we've seen from everyone a time or two — could tank the living room initiative.
I'm not particularly worried for 2017, though. This is a new Google. They do things we don't like but they also seem to have become focused on the user experience more than the past. There's still a way to go, but they are steadily moving in the right direction.
I can't hide the fact that Google Home, the whole Google Cast ecosystem, and Google Wifi have wowed me and I'm not going to try. Even when they don't or can't do what I want the way I want it, they are still great products that do a lot of other great things. They're fun to use and I never thought I'd have a microphone listen to my life voluntarily, even if it is confined to my office behind a shut door. They're even fun after they've malfunctioned at the beginning of an important company online meeting and started playing music and announcing loudly to everyone that they were sorry but couldn't do ... something. I'm not surprised that I'm excited about a router but am surprised that so many other people are. It tells me Google is ready for the living room and 2017 might not be another year where we're all left wanting.
Merry Christmas, happy holidays, and season's greetings everyone. Love each other.
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