Chromecast Audio integration

Started by Valfodr
C07d42947dad3ba1aff315123a3277cc?s=128&d=mm

Valfodr

Hi all! I have a Rhythm module but I'm really dissatisfied with the quality of the microphone, even if the speaker is really closer to it.
Since my sound system cannot be directly plugged into the Rhythm, I decided to buy a Chromecast Audio to stream music directly into it. This made me think that Chromecast Audio integration would be such a great thing!
A Chromecast Audio enabled device can be grouped with other speakers/devices so that the same audio stream can be played by all the devices in the same group, so Aurora panels with a Rhythm module could reproduce music that is sent to him and other speakers via Chromecast!

What do you think?

C07d42947dad3ba1aff315123a3277cc?s=128&d=mm

Valfodr

That's ok, thanks for your reply… But that's not what I asked for! That's EXACTLY what I don't want to do :)
I'd prefer not to have an external/additional device plugged into my panels but an integration of that feature!

344a4290f574b7cdd1d007c60374594f?s=128&d=mm

nanofarmer

@Valfodr Yeah, I understood your suggestion and would like this too :) I just wanted to point you to my related port. (I don't work for Nanoleaf. I work as a product manager in the streaming media space.)

Here's my analysis. Sorry for the verbosity.

The Google Barrier

This will be a challenge for Nanoleaf, but I'd love to see it happen. To support Chromecast Audio, the manufacturer (Nanoleaf) needs to work with Google to join their "Chromecast Built-In" licensing program. That program is designed to add Chromecast support to third-party speakers, TVs, and AV Receivers. Nanoleaf Aurora's scenario for Chromecast is very different from those and doesn't fit cleanly into any of the categories of Google's existing licensing program.

As an audio-only device without a speaker or audio output, Nanoleaf lights also have the potential to confuse or complicate Google's Chromecast user experience. For example:

  • When casting audio from apps like Spotify, it would be a poor experience to allow users to cast directly to the Nanoleaf light, as it has no speaker. It only makes sense to cast to a Chromecast Audio group that has a Nanoleaf light as a member.
  • In the Google Home app for managing Chromecast devices, the representation and settings of the Nanoleaf device would need to be different from other smart speakers. Volume adjustment and equalizer (adjusting bass/treble) do not make sense on the Nanoleaf.

The Options

So, I see 4 possible routes here:

  1. Make no product changes. Help users setup Chromecast integration themselves using a Chromecast Audio device, such as by providing instructions during onboarding in the mobile app (e.g. wizard to walk them through using microphone, audio input cable with speakers, or Chromecast audio). This would have no partnership dependencies on Google and would help some users adopt this scenario, but the onboarding steps for users are tedious.
  2. Ask Google to approve the Nanoleaf as a Chromecast speaker device as-is, without supporting audio output. (This is unlikely to happen for the reasons above.)
  3. Add hardware support to the Nanoleaf for 3.5mm audio output, then ask Google to approve the Nanoleaf as a Chromecast speaker device. This would effectively turn the Nanoleaf Rhythm module into a Chromecast Audio device that can play to an external speaker, just like Google's own Chromecast Audio dongle – but also support music visualization with delay compensation. This would be the most likely route to getting Google's approval, but could add complexity to the Nanoleaf product (explaining separate audio in / audio out ports?) and remains an awkward experience for users who want to Chromecast to other audio devices such as smart speakers and AV receivers.
    • Note: I think there are legitimate scenarios to adding separate 3.5mm audio output even without any Chromecast integration. Rhythm users currently have to buy a Y audio splitter to split their audio between the Nanoleaf and their speakers. If users could directly connect both the 3.5mm audio input and 3.5mm external speaker cable to their Nanoleafs, the Nanoleaf could perform the 100-200 ms delay compensation to visualize the audio prior to sending the audio out to the speakers.
  4. Collaborate with Google to create a new category of "Chromecast Built-In" devices for music visualization, then integrate Nanoleaf as one of these new types of devices (likely marketed as part of the Google Assistant/Home ecosystem for IoT lights, not the Chromecast ecosystem). This would allow Google to optimize the audio casting experience for these devices – hide them as direct cast targets, hide volume/equalizer settings, etc. This would require a major, time-consuming partnership and engineering work on both sides, but has potential to offer the cleanest user experience.

Recommendation

If I were a Nanoleaf PM, I'd push hard on Google partner contacts to discuss #4 (collaborate with Google to add direct support for Chromecast-responsive smart lights with music visualization, as part of their Google Assistant / Google Home ecosystem):

  • For smart home control and voice assistants, the competition between Google, Alexa, and Siri/HomeKit is fierce. Google is fighting to catch up to Alexa's early start. Google is likely interested in new types of integrations like this. It differentiates Google Assistant from Amazon/Apple in ways that are difficult to replicate.
  • Google's Chromecast ecosystem is currently far ahead of Alexa and AirPlay2 in usage, multi-speaker support, and cast app integration. Google is interested in using their casting advantage to win in voice assistants and smart home control. Nanoleaf's scenario connects Google's 3 core assets here: smart home lights that want to deeply integrate with voice assistants and streaming media.
  • Without integration into a wireless audio casting ecosystem, Nanoleaf's music visualization can never be a truly great experience.
    • The microphone is convenient but problematic. It requires the Nanoleaf lights to be placed near speakers, responds to non-music noise like TV audio and speech, and has inherent visualization latency.
    • The 3.5mm line in is similarly problematic. It must be tethered directly to a music source like a smartphone, iPod, or CD player – a dead and dying usage pattern. It requires a Y-splitter to support playback at the same time as visualizing music. It's incompatible with multi-room/multi-speaker playback. And it can't compensate for visualization latency.
    • As a product, Nanoleaf targets early adopters of premium smart home tech. That market has already switched to wireless music casting.
  • The whole Chromecast audio/speaker ecosystem already supports the 2 critical features needed to make Nanoleaf's scenario work flawlessly: multi-device casting (sending the audio to multiple Chromecast-enabled speakers/AV receivers at the same time) and per-device delay compensation (allowing some devices to play audio 0-250 ms earlier to compensate for audio processing delays – or, in Nanoleaf's case, music visualization delay).
  • Nanoleaf is uniquely situated to be the king of this category, even in the presence of competitors. Nanoleaf's modular panels support artistic layouts and use a proprietary ecosystem of on-device audio processing and visualizations that take advantage of the multiple lights with user-customizable layout. Nanoleaf's panels are also directly connected to WiFi, unlike some competitors like Philips Hue (bridge + Zigbee), enabling low-latency response to casted WiFi audio.

The Risks

There are some strategic risks to building a type of music visualization integration with Google:

  • It requires a substantial commitment from Google, and Nanoleaf doesn't have the weight of some of the bigger partners. Google may be reluctant to launch a new type of smart device integration without commitment from other major vendors. With other vendors participating in the design process, Nanoleaf might not get what it needs from Google's integration (e.g. directly receiving the Chromecast audio stream for on-device processing vs. just receiving loudness level information)
  • If Google gets on board and creates this new category for partner integration, it will lower the barrier for competing smart lights to build music visualization.
    • I don't think this should be a concern, though. As described above, Nanoleaf is uniquely situated to be the king of this category. If this partner integration would raise the awareness and demand for IoT music visualization lights by 5x, Nanoleaf still wins. It's better to own 80% of a large market than 95% of a small market. There's also some degree of inevitability here; this will eventually happen somewhere, with or without Nanoleaf, and it's better to be an early partner to drive this forward than to react to competitors later.
  • A unique integration with Chromecast could be perceived as ecosystem favoritism toward Google. Nanoleaf clearly aspires to be compatible and neutral in every platform war – Google/Alexa/HomeKit and iOS/Android. This is smart, as it allows them to remain compatible with the broadest set of users and participate in partner marketing with all of the ecosystems.
    • There is nothing preventing Nanoleaf from later reaching out to Amazon/Apple to discuss similar integrations with Amazon and Apple. There are plenty of IoT smart speakers and AV receivers that support multiple casting ecosystems (e.g. Chromecast built-in + AirPlay).

Cheers

C07d42947dad3ba1aff315123a3277cc?s=128&d=mm

Valfodr

That's a huge post. I agree with you that the fourth option would be the best one and it would be really interesting to be realized!

8b0b8cfa218dfdca9fa3c78c86fd7e69?s=128&d=mm

michaelfitzhavey

Great analysis. It'd be great to see an update of how you see this changes over the coming months.