The Google Play store app is now available on Roku.
It’s a small sentence, but it’s one that marks a big shift for the streaming media device race.
Roku has long led the way in the set top boxes that smarten up your telly, mostly thanks to its range of apps. The video on-demand sector is growing and so is the dash to hook up everyone’s TV to the web, but with every new entrant, the market becomes increasingly fragmented.
Apple TV entered the living room first, but offers primarily Apple-based movie and TV streaming: great for watching your iTunes rentals, but not so great if you bought something off Amazon Instant Video last week. Moreover, in typical Apple fashion, the iTunes app is not available on other streaming devices – a move that is designed to ensure Apple customers stay on-brand, but is actually more likely to leave them never renting / downloading from iTunes at all, especially with Apple TV carrying the highest price tag of all boxes.
Roku, on the other hand, offers the widest range of apps out there: subscription platforms, including Netflix, NOW TV and Amazon Prime Instant Video, are all present, plus the pay-per-view options of Amazon and Sky Store. At only £49.99, it’s also cheaper than Apple TV.
NOW TV has its own box, powered by Roku, but despite it’s £9.99 price tag, is as restrictive as Apple’s device, offering no other subscription platform apart from NOW TV – even Apple TV offers Netflix – and only Sky’s pay-per-view shop. NOW TV can install new apps as they become available, much like a normal Roku box, but Apple TV cannot.
Adding Google Play’s rental store to Roku, then, only extends its already diverse line-up: Android phone and tablet users can now rent movies and TV shows on their devices and watch them on the big screen. You can also, unlike the iOS Google Play Movies & TV app, buy things directly within Roku.
The new channel also adds a rather nifty feature for any Google purchases: Google Play’s Info Cards, which display facts about what’s on screen when you hit pause.
It might seem like a shot in the foot for Google, which has its own Chromecast stick – and has just announced its own Nexus Player set top box too. But the move follows the arrival of Amazon Fire TV in the UK (our review’s on the way), which has the same range of apps (including those from rivals Netflix and NOW TV) but drives people towards its own Amazon Instant Video pay-per-view store (Google Play is not on Amazon).
Whether people buy Google’s set top box (with its Chromecast-like ability to mirror content from a mobile device or computer on a TV) or not, Google can still get money from any purchases viewers make. And with Roku recently announcing it passed the 10 million sales mark, that’s a lot of potential customers.
Some Google customers will be disappointed that the Google Play Music app has not also been added to Roku, but with Movies & TV now available on yet another platform through the little purple stick, Roku is even further ahead in the smart TV race. Apple, meanwhile, could be kicking themselves for not doing this themselves.