Mike Isaac

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Will Google Deliver on Its Nexus Q Promise? Not at This Year’s I/O.

nexusQ

Nearly one year ago, at its I/O developer conference, Google unveiled its Android-powered Nexus Q media player product to much fanfare. Little more than a month after the big reveal, Google suspended the launch of the Q indefinitely.

So, will Google’s I/O conference — set to kick off this Wednesday — bring news of the Nexus Q’s fate?

No, it won’t. Google won’t have any news on the Nexus Q this week, according to sources familiar with the matter. Google didn’t respond to a request for comment.

The Q’s notable absence over the past year is almost as big a deal as its initial unveiling. For Google, the Nexus Q was less a new product than it was a definitive statement; essentially, the search giant was saying that with the fully in-house-designed Q, Google, too, could create beautiful products, just like its greatest competitor, Apple, whose iPhones, iPads and computing devices are fetishized by technologists and design fanatics the world over.

What’s more, the Q was to be manufactured inside the U.S., a stark departure from so many consumer electronics companies whose devices are put together overseas in places such as South America and Asia. And the timing of the initial announcement couldn’t have been better for Google: As Apple was facing harsh criticism for working conditions and wages in overseas operations with partner manufacturing group Foxconn, Google reaped the public relations benefits of claiming to bring manufacturing back to the U.S. of A.

The Q was indeed attractive and well built, a matte-black sphere slightly smaller than a bowling ball, encircled in a thin strip of LEDs which alternated in color when interacting with other Android devices. It was sleek, stylish, an item that any design devotee would feel comfortable situating in the middle of their living room.

NexusQ

Aside from looking pretty, the Q didn’t do quite enough to warrant the hefty $300 price tag. The Nexus Q was for all intents and purposes a direct gateway to Google Play, the company’s Web-based media store which sells MP3s and videos to consumers. Link the Q up to your Wi-Fi network and it would be able to tap into a user’s online repository of Google-stored content. Users could control the Q with their Android smartphones and tablets and, ideally, hold listening “parties,” swapping songs in and out of the “queue” of tracks to be played.

However novel, the Nexus Q paled in comparison to devices from competitors like Microsoft, whose massively popular Xbox is capable of delivering all sorts of downloadable content like games, video and music. Apple, too, offers the Apple TV at a modestly priced $100, and is capable of delivering video and music from its iTunes online media store, as well.

As a result of a wave of immediate criticism, Google suspended the Q’s fate indefinitely, citing “initial feedback from users that they want Nexus Q to do even more than it does today,” according to the company’s statement last July. Google said at the time that it was “postponing” the consumer launch rather than halting product development completely, in order to “work on making it even better.”

Indeed, Google will have to return with a strong product to compete in the battle for consumers’ living rooms, an assault waged across all fronts from the world’s biggest American technology companies. Two years ago, Google unveiled Android @Home, the company’s plan to extend Android-based devices into products like in-home lighting fixtures, signaling the company’s grand ambitions to bring Android out of its traditional mobile device roots.

While we’ve seen little progress in the way of news from Google’s @Home efforts since, Microsoft and Apple continue to push for greater market share with their device and content offerings. Even Amazon is reported to be working on its own set-top box, in order to stream its content directly into the homes of consumers.

So, at this week’s I/O, at least, we won’t be hearing about Google’s Nexus Q plans. But there’s always next year.

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I think the NSA has a job to do and we need the NSA. But as (physicist) Robert Oppenheimer said, “When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it and argue about what to do about it only after you’ve had your technical success. That is the way it was with the atomic bomb.”

— Phil Zimmerman, PGP inventor and Silent Circle co-founder, in an interview with Om Malik