Google puts itself front and center on Chromecast

The tech giant announces a few new features for its popular streaming hardware at the Google I/O developer conference.

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Google is adding a batch of new features to its Chromecast streaming media stick, in hopes that consumers will find uses for the device beyond watching videos.

This includes viewing personal photos through Google Plus, the company's social network, and the ability to cast anything from your mobile devices to the bigger screen. The updates, which are expected to roll out later this year, include allowing any Android device in the room to connect with Chromecast without connecting to a Wi-Fi network.

Rishi Chandra, who leads the team working on Google 's TV products, demonstrated the device's new mirroring capabilities to the roughly 6,000 attendees at the Google I/O developers conference in San Francisco. Chandra started up Google Earth on his phone and cast it to the TV screen. He also used his phone's camera to scan the crowd and cast the visual onto the larger display.

"Everything on your phone will now show up on your TV," he said.

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Apple's Worldwide Developers Conference, held earlier this month at the same location, focused on a small number of categories -- PCs, mobile devices, and a few media services among them -- but Google was expected at its own confab to tackle a wider array of its businesses, including search, tablets, and smart-home devices.

Chandra said Google's Chromecast is now a top-selling streaming device in the US, UK, France, Japan, and Canada. The stick's users are more active on Google's YouTube video platform compared with any other streaming device, he said. When Chromecast first launched, it worked for a limited number of apps but was a cheap alternative to other streaming devices.

Chandra said the interest in developing apps for Chromecast has grown quickly, with 6,000 developers registered for the Cast SDK developer platform since it opened in February. These developers have integrated Chrome's casting abilities into 10,000 apps.

In addition to the new mirroring feature, users can display personal photos in lieu of the screensaver images currently used for the Chromecast home screen. Chandra said people also will be able to display other categories of images, including news, lifestyle, and art. These images are connected to Google's knowledge graph, so users can find out more information about them.

The company's pitch to developers comes as tech giants see users switch their attention away from desktop computers to smartphones and tablets, and start to look at other screens, including smartwatches and car dashboards. Inhabiting those platforms means Google can extend its reach, and collect the valuable user data the company -- and advertisers -- covet.

This story is developing. Follow CNET's Google I/O live blog and see all of today's Google I/O news.

Watch this: Google's Chromecast gets cloud makeover