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

The Nexus Q was such a misunderstood product that Google decided to unplug it before the device was ever released to consumers. Ten years to the day after its I / O 2012 launch, 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 the company’s first attempt at portable technology at least got people talking. The Nexus Q, on the other hand, was an example of what can happen when a company gets lost in its own fenced garden.

These were promising aspects of Q; In hindsight, you can clearly see the groundwork and early DNA of Google’s Chromecast in it. But everything about the execution was basically short-sighted – and a little strange. In the promo video below that Google released the day it announced the Nexus Q, some describe the product as “this living alien object”.

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

Over-the-top marketing aside, the Nexus Q was not well received. David Pogue entered New York Times that it was «confusing» and «wildly covered». We gave it a 5. Reviews from CNET, Engadget, and others all shared the same consensus: for no matter how impressive its hardware was, Q just 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 services was simply not practical or appealing to many people.

The streaming player was to be produced in the USA, which no doubt contributed to the staggering price.

Designed by Google, made in the USA

But hey, 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 spherical industrial design and glowing LED ring. This was long before the Amazon Echo came, remember. Q looked like something that could jack you into the matrix. And it was all original. Unlike other Nexus devices, which were partnerships with partners such as LG, Samsung, Asus, Huawei and others, the Nexus Q was completely conceptualized by Google.

It may 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 has never really highlighted or played up US production – perhaps to avoid the notion that it would become a trend – but it undoubtedly contributed to Q’s planned $ 299 price tag. (The original Moto X was later to be assembled in the United States, but that initiative did not last long.)

Inside the sphere, there was an “audiophile-grade” 25-watt amplifier that could drive passive speakers – this is still Q’s most unique hardware component – along with connections for optical, Micro HDMI and Ethernet. A micro-USB port was present “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 mute what is being played. All the features of a great living room unit were there. But limiting software limitations ruined that potential.

The 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 audiophiles had no opportunity to get lossless sound from the analog connectors.

Q lacked any on-screen user interface and did not come with a remote control; you can only control it using 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 its course and put heavy pressure on popular third-party apps to adopt casting. And crucially, Chromecast also supported iOS.

Social flow

Aside from Nexus Q’s core functionality of playing music and videos, Google also tried to present the product as a social experience. More people will be able to contribute to music playlists without sending anyone’s phone around or pushing over the control of a Bluetooth speaker. Friends could share YouTube or Play Movies content on the TV screen in a similar way – as long as they were on your Wi-Fi.

All of this sounds good in theory, but again, this was pre-Chromecast. The process of “social” streaming was … let’s say, inconvenient. If you actually wanted to make the scenario “everyone at the party can DJ” happen, all your friends would do it also need to download and install the Nexus Q app before they can add songs to the queue. Even then, reviews complained that the software was not very intuitive when it came to managing music playlists. It was too easy to accidentally play a song and blow up the collaborative mix that was at work.

Fast forward a few years, and finally the best streaming music services found that they could only 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 Qs to adjust the volume.
GIF: Google

End of the queue

Google heard the negative reviews and “is that all it does?” criticism of the Nexus Q loud and clear. In late July 2012, just one month after the announcement, the company announced that it was postponing a consumer launch of the product “while we work to make it even better.” Customers with early pre-orders will receive the unit free of charge as a thank you for their early interest.

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

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

After Google left the hardware, tinkerers and mod developers spent a few years trying to give the Nexus Q a new lease of life. It entered the CyanogenMod circuit, and one person even managed to turn it into a USB audio device to take advantage of the integrated amplifier. But there are just not many units in circulation, so this effort has largely disappeared into history.

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