In some ways, Google is like the young hotshot musician, actor or entrepreneur who peaks too soon. Its search engine and contextual advertising system were such smash hits that everything else seems, well, kind of flat.
But you have to give them credit, the Googlers keep trying when they could just sit around and clip coupons. One problem Google and other great minds of the modern age have been trying to solve is television -- namely, how to rescue TV from its tower and marry it to the Internet.
It's not as though anyone else has solved this conundrum. Apple has struck out several times. Now it's starting to look like both Google and Apple may have been guilty of over-engineering. They both came up with set-top boxes that were monuments to complexity -- something that anyone who has ever tried to master his TV, DVR, cable box, DVD player and audio system needs no more of.
Simple, very simple
So Google, like Apple, has adopted the KISS protocol (come on, you know what this is -- Keep it simple, stupid) and the result is something called Chromecast -- a little $35 thing that looks sort of like a thumb drive.
OK, it is a thumb drive, but instead of plugging it into your laptop, you plug it into your high-def TV and, voilà, you can stream video from the tablet, computer or smartphone that you have paired with the thumb drive.
If this sounds familiar, it's because it's the way Apple TV works, except that Apple TV costs $99 and restricts you to using Apple-brand devices. Chromecast lets you use Android, Windows, Google's very nifty brower-based Chrome OS and, ahem, Apple.
Sound confusing? It's not. Here are the stunningly simple set-up instructions from Google: "Plug Chromecast into any HDTV, connect it to WiFi, then send videos and more from your smartphone, tablet or laptop to your TV with the press of a button."
Initially, it works with Netflix, YouTube, Google Play and Chrome but you can expect lots more sources to sign on. It's pretty hard, in fact, to see how any major program producer would want to miss sailing on this boat. And it's also hard to see how this doesn't cause major angina for cable TV executives and the folks at Roku, whose neat little devices have previously been the simplest way to get hold of lots of high-def programming.
To sweeten the deal even further, for the $35 you pay for the Chromecast device, you get three months of free Netflix service -- an offer that applies even to current subscribers. Netflix' most basic plan is $8 per month, so that means Chromecast costs you $11. Cheaper than a Chevy Volt anyday.