One of the criticisms often leveled against Apple’s (NASDAQ:AAPL) iOS devices — iPhones, iPads and iPods — is the closed approach Apple takes and its insistence on proprietary technology. Google’s (NASDAQ:GOOG) Android platform, in comparison, is touted as a model of openness that lets users more or less do as they please.
So, what to make of the Nexus Q, Google’s delayed foray into streaming media hardware?
Over the years, speaker docks have become ubiquitous in living rooms, largely replacing boom boxes, portable stereos and compact sound systems. However, the vast majority of these systems feature Apple’s proprietary dock connector. For instance, Apple TV, the set-top streaming media device, is designed to fit perfectly into an Apple-centric home and is closely integrated with Apple’s iTunes for buying or renting music and video content.
That has long been a sticking point for owners of Android mobile devices who find the choice of docks made specifically for Android to be very few.
When news first started trickling out that Google was developing it’s own media hardware device, anticipation was high. If any company was going to tackle the issue of Apple’s closed system and proprietary docks, Google was it.
The Nexus Q was announced at Google’s June I/O conference. Attendees were sent home with one of the cool-looking spherical devices, review units were dispatched and the product was immediately put up for pre-order. But reviews were not good, to put it mildly. In The New York Times, technology writer David Pogue’s headline read: “The Nexus Q Is Baffling.” Other outlets weren’t so nice.
Barely more than a month later, Google this week canceled all pre-orders (would-be early adopters were told they’d get the device as a free preview unit) and removed the Nexus Q from its online store. If you check, the device is now listed as “coming soon.”
While the Nexus Q is an intriguing piece of hardware, it seems as though Google took a page from Apple’s playbook, then amped the approach up to the next level. Instead of the anti-iOS media device, the company came up with something significantly more restrictive. Among the Nexus Q head scratchers:
- A price tag of $299.
- No remote or way to control the unit without an Android smartphone or tablet.
- Music and video streaming only from Google services.
- No ability to play content stored locally; everything is cloud based.
- Built-in amplifier and speaker jacks, but no speakers.
- No auxiliary input jack.
Here’s the thing. Apple TV can stream content from the cloud, but it’s also capable of playing movies, TV shows and music stored on a homeowner’s computer — Mac or Windows. It can stream content from an iOS device. Apple just enabled Hulu Plus on it. An iPhone or iPad can be used as a remote, but they aren’t required. The device costs $99 (including the remote).
Speaker docks range in price from tens of dollars to thousands, but consumers can pick up a premium dock in the $500-$600 range that provides audiophile quality sound, streaming audio and video capability. That may sound expensive, but when you start with a Nexus Q and add decent speakers, you’re over that amount (Google’s own offering adds $399 plus $49 for cables). The expenditure for a Q-powered system could easily top $650, plus the smartphone to control it.
And while speaker docks designed for iOS require an iPhone, iPod or iPad in order to enjoy the best (digital) sound, device recharging and full integration, they almost invariably include a standard 3.5-mm input jack so any device can be plugged in and used as a music source.
To wrap things up, the Nexus Q turned out to be an expensive, completely closed system tied exclusively to Google media streaming services. An Android device is required to control it, yet can’t play its own local content. And even with its most recent app update, the Nexus Q requires that device to be running Android 2.3.3 and up. In other words, Google has excluded a chunk of users who own older Android smartphones and tablets, further reducing the potential market.
Instead of putting Apple on notice, Google ended up making the Apple TV and those “designed for iOS” docks look positively welcoming in comparison.
When its products are carefully conceived and properly executed, Google can produce terrific results. The new Nexus 7 tablet is an example of how well the company can do hardware. The Nexus Q? It had better get a thorough overhaul, including a price adjustment, before it finally launches if it’s going to avoid joining the long list of Google misses.
Being designed for Android and Made in America isn’t going to give it a free pass with consumers.
As of this writing, Brad Moon doesn’t own any securities mentioned here.