Chromecast Tunes Into An Elegant Customer Experience

ChromecastAfter it’s Nexus One phone fiasco back in 2010, it seemed that Google would never understand how to be the consumer products company it was trying so hard to be.

They forced customers to jump through proprietary Google hoops to buy the phone; it wasn’t available at stores, which meant folks were expected to commit to the gadget without even laying hands on a floor sample. On top of that unfriendly purchase process, after-market support was split three ways: Google controlled the operating system, HTC manufactured the gadget, and T-Mobile’s network ran it. You had to be a savvy consumer to know who to contact if something went wrong. Google ended up yanking the phone off the market after just seven months.

Then, of course, there was the Google TV stumble later that same year. Rather than presenting the “it-just-works” experience that had been promised months earlier, the initial Google TV products were painfully slow and had a clunky, unfinished feel. Consumers may have come to accept the need to reboot their computer every now and then, but rebooting their television? That’s just not going to happen.

Then came Chromecast — and Google at long last is behaving like a modern consumer electronics company. For once, Google understands that the product is only part of the experience, and every part of the experience matters, especially when attempting to sell technology to mainstream consumers.

With the Chromecast’s blockbuster launch, Google hit smack dab on the last card (#50) in the Digital Life Group’s Product Success Deck: “Learn from your own past launches and develop your own best practices.” When Chromecast quickly sold out at the Google Play store, I still found it available at Amazon for the same price. Once it arrived, the plug-and-play design made it a snap to use. Plus, I know exactly which company to turn to for support should something go wrong with this simple little gadget.

Google has done so many things right with Chromecast that more than half the Product Success Deck could be used to tell its story. I’ll spare you that level of detail, however, and just review eight high points:

Card #42: It’s not a launch if people can’t buy it. Google didn’t drop hints for months before Chromecast’s launch. Instead, they told the world about it, made sure that a number of bloggers and journalists could write early reviews about it, and immediately made it available for purchase. Other companies should pay attention. When reviewers first started to buzz about the Belkin Ultimate Keyboard Case for the iPad back in April, Belkin told consumers they’d have to wait six weeks to get their hands on one. Six weeks came and went, and then another six weeks passed before the product began to reach customers. Early buzz loses value faster than a pumpkin the first week in November.

Cards #21 and #23 are opposite sides of the same coin: Products should not try to be all things to all people, and simplicity wins in today’s complex world. Google has learned not to try to be everything to everyone in a single product. Chromecast does one thing, and it does it very well: It plays Internet video streaming from a laptop onto a TV screen. What about playing content from the laptop’s hard drive? Nope. It is simple in both function and design. There are no buttons and no complex configuration.

Which leads into Card #24: Usability matters. Oh, and also Card #43: Be useful on Day One. That’s the Netflix aspect of Chromecast. Rather than making users go browsing around for Internet content they want to see on TV, Chromecast offers up the riches of Netflix from the get-go. Use a Chrome browser on the laptop to find what you want to see, then click a button in the browser that says “Send to Chromecast.” That same button also instantly appeared in the YouTube application on my phone and in the Chrome browser app on my tablet. Click it, and you’re done. Break out the popcorn.

That simplicity also is suggestive of Card #34: Less is more when it comes to the product line. How many models of Chromecast are out there? One. What extras should I purchase to enhance the experience? None. It’s got what you need right in the box.

It’s also nice to see that Google finally – finally! – has given a nod to Card #45: Back off the betas; you only get one chance to make a first impression and betas do not do that well. Until very recently, Google was the King of Betas. Half of Google’s new features spent time in beta whenever the company expected to make changes to the interface after its introduction. A case in point: Google News was in beta for four long years. Consumers don’t like betas, especially when they’re hardware. Google got that message.

Along those same lines, and perhaps more importantly, Google Chromecast applies the wisdom of Card #46: Don’t race a competitor to market; if you can only beat them on time, you won’t beat them at the finish line. Chromecast isn’t the first device to move video from a laptop to a TV. But right now it is the best.

And in the end, that matters most.