Google's worst hardware flop was introduced 10 years ago today

Google’s worst hardware flop was introduced 10 years ago today

The Nexus Q was such a misguided product that Google decided to unplug it before the device was ever released to consumers. Ten years until the next day its introduction at I / O 2012, The $ 299 media player positioned as a “social streaming device” remains a unique debacle in Google’s hardware history. Say what you will about Google Glass, but at least the company’s first investment in portable technology got people talking. Nexus Q, on the other hand, was an example of what can happen when a company gets very lost in its own walled garden.

There were promising aspects of Q; in retrospect, one can clearly see the basis and the early DNA Google’s Chromecast within it. But everything about the execution was basically short-term – and a little strange. In the promo video below that Google released the same day it announced the Nexus Q, someone describes the product as “this living alien object.”

“There’s something inside it. It wants to come out.” Completely normal stuff. Sixty seconds into the video, you still have no idea what this is or what the hell it’s even doing. Eventually we learn that the Nexus Q is “a small, Android-powered computer” that can play music or videos from the cloud.

Aside from over-the-top marketing, the Nexus Q was not well received. David Pogue wrote in The New York Times that it was “puzzling” and “wildly covered”. We gave it a 5th. Reviews from CNET, Engadget, and others all shared the same consensus: for how impressive its hardware was, Q did not do enough to justify a price so much higher than a Roku or Apple TV at the time. A device that only worked with Google’s services was simply not practical or appealing to many people.

The streaming player was to be manufactured in the United States, which undoubtedly contributed to its astonishing price.

Designed by Google, made in the USA

But it looked cool. The Nexus Q really gave off sci-fi vibes (especially when banana plugs and other A / V cables ran out) thanks to its globe-shaped industrial design and glowing LED ring. This was long before the Amazon Echo came, remember. The Q looked like something that could get you into the matrix. And everything was original. Unlike other Nexus devices, which were collaborations with partners such as LG, Samsung, Asus, Huawei and others, Nexus Q was completely conceptualized by Google.


It can looks familiar nowbut the Nexus Q had an incredibly cool design for its time.
GIF: Google

Most surprising of all is that it was designed and manufactured in the United States. Google never really highlighted or played the American manufacturing part – perhaps to avoid it becoming a trend – but it undoubtedly contributed to Q’s planned price of $ 299. (The original Moto X would later be mounted in the United Statesbut that initiative did not last long.)

Inside the sphere was an “audiophile-grade” 25-watt amplifier that could drive passive speakers – this is still Q’s most unique hardware component – along with optical, Micro HDMI and Ethernet connections. A micro-USB port was available “to encourage general hacking capabilities,” according to hardware director Matt Hershenson. The Nexus Q was powered by the same smartphone chip as the Galaxy Nexus. You can rotate the upper half of the sphere to control the volume or press it to turn off everything being played. All the conditions for a fantastic living room unit were there. But limiting software limitations destroyed that potential.

Nexus Q’s built-in amplifier was an unusual inclusion. You will not find banana jack connectors on many streaming players.
Photo by Chris Welch / The Verge

Nexus Q only supported Google services, including Play Music, Play Movies & TV, and YouTube. There was no Netflix or Hulu, and no Spotify. Google took the trouble to insert an amplifier, but audio files had no way to get lossless audio from the analog connectors.

Q did not have a user interface on the screen and did not come with a remote control; you could only control it with a dedicated Android app. Some of it will sound familiar to Chromecast owners. But there were big differences between Nexus Q and Chromecast, which came a year later, which made the $ 35 streaming dongle such a success. After learning a hard lesson from stubbornly favoring its own software, Google corrected the course and put a lot of pressure on popular third-party apps to adopt casting. And crucially, Chromecast also supported iOS.

Social streaming

Aside from Nexus Q’s core features for playing music and videos, Google also tried to present the product as a social experience. Multiple people could contribute to music playlists without passing around someone’s phone or overriding control over a Bluetooth speaker. Friends could share content from YouTube or Play Movies on the TV screen in a similar way – as long as they were on your Wi-Fi.

It sounds good in theory, but again, this was pre-Chromecast. The process of “social” streaming was … let’s say, inconvenient. If you really wanted to make the scenario “everyone at the party can DJ” happen, all your friends would do it also must download and install the Nexus Q app before they can add songs to the queue. Even then, reviews complained that the software was unintuitive when it came to handling music playlists. It was too easy to accidentally play a song and blow up the collaborative mix that was going on.

Fast forward a few years and eventually the best streaming music services came upon them could simply solve this on their own. Now you can create a collaborative playlist on Spotify (or YouTube Music) – no special device or random apps required.


You can spin – or caress, in this case – the upper half of the Nexus Q to adjust the volume.
GIF: Google

End of sex

Google heard the negative reviews and “is that all it does?” criticism of the Nexus Q loud and clear. At the end of July 2012, just one month after the announcement, the company had announced that it was postponed a consumer launch of the product “while working to make it even better.” Early pre-ordered customers would receive the device for free as a thank you for their early interest.

But the Nexus Q never made it to store shelves. At the end of 2012, Google quietly removed the product from its website. In 2013, the company’s apps started break the compatibility with the device in total. With so few Q-units in the world, Google did not waste time leaving it in the rearview mirror.

At least this disaster led to Chromecast a year later.
Photo by Chris Welch / The Verge

After Google abandoned the hardware, craftsmen and fashion developers spent a few years trying to give the Nexus Q a new lease of life. The made it to the CyanogenMod circuitand one person even succeeded turn it into a USB audio device to take advantage of the integrated amplifier. But there are just not many units in circulation, so these efforts have largely faded into history.

The Nexus Q was a complete failure for a product, but Google was not wrong about a “third wave of consumer electronics” that would make greater use of the cloud to keep all your entertainment (music, movies, TV) close at hand. We see it everywhere today, and now you can add games to the equation. It was an embarrassing mistake, but Google’s canceled $ 299 media player showed that consumers have high expectations of living room entertainment devices – and not even giant technology companies can afford to do it alone.

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