Chromecast is still the best hardware product Google has ever made

Google has had its hands in a lot of different products over the years. Most of Google's endeavors have been software-based and some have become wildly popular, like Gmail or Android. Others were a bit more low key — does anyone remember Google Lively? It's a story shared by many Silicon Valley businesses both large and small.

But Google has also been behind quite a few hardware projects since the company was founded in the late 1990s. We've seen corporate search appliances, ARM single-board supercomputers, and driverless cars as well as mobile and wearable products we're more familiar with come from the minds in Mountain View, but none has been as successful as the lowly Chromecast.

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We saw our first official look at the Chromecast in 2013. Its roots go back to the ill-fated but beautifully imaginative Nexus Q, which was one of the first ever products to bring the idea of "headless streaming" to the masses. Except it never really went on sale so it didn't actually bring anything to anyone outside of the abstract idea that your phone can not only act as a remote but be the only interface with a streaming appliance.

Since the Chromecast was released commercially, it's evolved quite a bit, with the second-generation model bringing a 4K Chromecast Ultra and an audio-only version dubbed Chromecast Audio.

The Chromecast delivers where it matters most to Google with millions of homes using them.

On the business side of things, which happens to be the side which determines whether a product lives or dies, the Chromecast has been a consistent winner. In the four years since its launch, it's become the best-selling Google product ever, the best selling media streamer ever, and one of those products that almost everyone reading this will have in their homes. No matter how you define a successful product, the Chromecast fits your definition.

I think the Chromecast is the best thing Google has ever produced for the same reasons it's the most popular product the company has ever sold. That's because it meets the simple criteria to be the best: cheap and easy.

It's easy to overdesign and overbuild any gadget. Some products are made better when they've been made to be over the top — the iPod Classic comes to mind here — but most of the time adding too much engineering time and too many features to a simple thing will make it too expensive or too complicated. Or both, à la Nexus Q. Google has resisted any temptation to turn the Chromecast into something with buttons and lights and dials which requires a 40-page user manual. That's important for a device that is only supposed to do one thing and keep it easy to do, and a Chromecast is both easy to setup and use.

Developers take the time to include a Chromecast button because it's lucrative; we tap that button and stream things to one because it's easy. This is the tech "circle of life" in a nutshell.

Part of that is because Chromecast is a platform where developers are expected to do all the work. A user should only have to worry about choosing which Chromecast to send a movie or song to and it's up to the developers and publishers and everyone else behind the scenes to keep the process simple and consistent. And when a product is in millions and millions of homes, it's worth spending the time to be a part of it. Having Chromecast built into your app means more eyes are on bigger screens to watch it. It's worth adding Google Cast to any app that entertains us because we'll use it.

Another reason why we're using Chromecast is a bit more simple: it's inexpensive, especially for a tech gadget. At $35, it's so cheap that it can even become an impulse buy. If you've ever noticed Chromecasts neatly boxed in the checkout lanes of big-box stores like Target or Best Buy during holiday shopping, this is why. Buying a Chromecast because you need a simple streaming solution makes sense and putting it in front of a captive audience to remind them all that they can have a simple solution is a great way to sell a product. I know I can't help but think of where I could use another Chromecast when I see them on display with a few dollars knocked off the price, and I already have a house filled with them.

Over the years Google has had its share of hits and misses and whether you love 'em or hate 'em you probably use one or more of the company's products daily. If it's a piece of hardware, it's probably a Chromecast because it's still the best hardware product Google has ever made.

Jerry Hildenbrand
Senior Editor — Google Ecosystem

Jerry is an amateur woodworker and struggling shade tree mechanic. There's nothing he can't take apart, but many things he can't reassemble. You'll find him writing and speaking his loud opinion on Android Central and occasionally on Twitter.