Big Tech Finally Figured Out That Phones Aren’t the Best Devices for Streaming

Illustration for article titled Big Tech Finally Figured Out That Phones Arent the Best Devices for Streaming
Image: Google

Well, well, well! With the arrival of Google’s heavily leaked, highly hyped new streaming dongle, Chromecast with Google TV, it appears yet another Silicon Valley company has figured out that maybe—just maybe—we do not want to stream everything from our phones.


Google has had a presence in the streaming wars in a very big way and for quite a while now. Android TV powers plenty of set-top boxes and smart TVs, and Google’s Chromecast devices have for years allowed cord-cutters to beam content from their mobile devices or tablets to much larger screens in their homes. That’s a neat workaround to the smart TV conundrum and loss of support for some apps over time. But it also made your phone a necessary part of your entertainment experience.

Most notorious of the phone-centric streaming experiences is the spectacular disaster that is Quibi, a service that tried and failed to force viewers to watch premium content on a small screen—during a pandemic, no less! At launch, Quibi did not support any kind of desktop, web, or TV casting apps. It has since introduced a feature to support the latter, but not until long after its launch and by which time it was already struggling to make people care about a technology that Quibi executives positioned as the future of streaming—a short-form video format for premium features that would support both portrait and landscape storytelling, depending on how a user’s phone was oriented.


So confident was Quibi about its product that it even opted to charge for the ad-supported version of the platform, which was certainly a choice given the sheer number of streaming apps that had or were launching within six months on either side of Quibi’s debut. (Though the company appears to have rethought this approach and is testing a free ad-supported version of its app in Australia.)

That someone would dream up a “YouTube, but make it HBO” concept for running errands is not entirely surprising. For years, streaming service-adjacent apps like Snapchat and TikTok—and long before them, YouTube—proved that there was a real appetite for mobile viewing. But rather than giving users the same cross-platform flexibility that YouTube affords them, Quibi decided to lean really, really hard into creating a service that nobody asked for. Granted, Quibi was pitched pre-covid-19, but the insistence on making a Netflix for phones still seems bold even in more normal times.

And that brings us back to the new Chromecast with Google TV—which, above all, has a dedicated remote for once! With its better, improved user interface, it’s almost as if someone at Google stopped for a second and thought, ‘Wait a minute, what if phone-as-remote isn’t the best way to stream content?’ The Google TV part of this new product is a streaming-specific upgrade from Google’s Android TV. And that’s pretty great! With brilliant, big-screen TVs now more affordable and powerful than ever, many viewers have what could easily be described as mini-cinemas in their homes. Why on earth would users prefer to watch movies on their phones when many have bigger, better screens as options at home? Especially right now!

Having options across platforms is great, and don’t get me wrong, I’ll occasionally pull up a video on my phone to kill time while on the go. But I sure as hell don’t want to be forced to have to use my phone to watch movies or TV. And companies seem to finally be picking up on that.