Sam Johnstone

Casts and Casts and Casts for Candy

N. and I just moved into a new apartment together, and for the first time in my adult life I’m looking at my physical environment as more than a temporary place to leave my backpack at the end of the day. This is a very exciting feeling, and with it comes a whole slew of things I’ve never bothered thinking about before, such as what technology is suited to a living room. N. and I went out first to buy an Apple TV first because no matter your feelings, buying Apple is never really a bad choice. Then we got skittish about spending $200 off the bat for a thing that in our case would be used pretty sparingly, and left with a Chromecast instead. Now I am totally enamoured with the little dongle, but there’s something about it that doesn’t click for me. It works beautifully, and it’s a delight to see the little cast icon appear on its own in apps I already have with me. I love the experience of turning on the living room screen, opening up Spotify or Mubi and having it just appear. And the fact that the device you use to host the content doesn’t have to give the Chromecast it’s full attention is a really thoughtful characteristic of the little media stick. But every time I use it, I hear a little voice at the back of my head whispering “but it isn’t Bluetooth”.

There are a few pieces of technology I will always root for. E-Ink and Bluetooth are the two things that I am more emotionally invested in than any other artifacts of technology. E-Ink because it is resilient, conscientious of power consumption, inexpensive to implement, and values information over spectacle. London announcing that it would be testing E-Ink displays in its bus stops was one of the most exciting pieces of tech news from last year for me. Bluetooth on the other hand I get excited about primarily for its accessibility. It requires no other network to exist. You can take two Bluetooth devices anywhere together and they won’t have a problem speaking to one another. But it isn’t well loved. It seems like the obvious candidate for anything related to smart homes. Yet Apple has AirPlay & HomeKit, Google has Brillo, Weave and the Google Cast standard. Microsoft has Miracast. Sonos, Nest and Amazon all use Wi-Fi for their connected home devices. My problem with all of these is just that there are so many, and they are all reliant on either the active development of a singular company, or for Wi-Fi, paid access to the connection.

That’s ultimately why I can’t let myself be entirely swept up by the technological joy of the Chromecast. What I love about Bluetooth is that it works whether you like it or not. Any media tech company like Spotify or Tidal could reject Bluetooth, and actively oppose its development and adoption, but at the end of the day the platform agnostic service will win. I don’t like the idea of home technology being brought into the politicking of corporations, and the idea that I have to pick between Google or Apple services now to watch a movie in my living room grosses me out. But at the same time, the Chromecast works so well, and for so many different types of media, and that is absolutely a virtue of its focused development under one roof. So as always I’m torn. My heart is pulled towards open source industry standards, and my brain is pulled towards to efficiency of capitalism at work.