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The Nexus Q gets a bad rap, but is everyone in tech missing the point? [Opinion]

July 5, 2012 | by Andrew Kameka

Android

nexus-q

The reviews of the Nexus Q have poured in since Google announced its new media-streaming device, and the word isn’t very favorable. The general consensus seems to be that the Q, while good looking and a solid product, is priced far too high at $299 and lacks the feature set to compete with similar products. I said as much in my Nexus Q review when I called it “another cool Google product destined to fail.”

But am I – and most other folks on the Internet – completely missing the boat on the Nexus Q? We’ve all judged the Q on what it is as a consumer device, but perhaps we’re losing sight of what it might really be – another cool Google product destined for beta.

After I published my Nexus Q review, reader Shane Shepherd tagged me in a Google+ post in which he defends the Q from the wave of negative reviews. Shepherd agreed with the sentiment that the device “doesn’t have a full enough feature set to compete with other devices already on the market,” but he contends that this is by design. In his opinion, the Nexus Q is supposed to be a learning experience for Google rather than a successful first project.

Shepherd’s post basically argues that Google wants to make the Q as hackable as possible in order to learn what users want to do and what developers are capable of doing. The ultimate goal is to introduce the Q as a major component of not just the home entertainment system, but also the connected home. I won’t give away the entire argument as it’s actually a keen take on it all and I recommend that everyone go read it. Go ahead, I’ll wait….

Back now? Okay, good.

I will concede that Shepherd may be correct in stating thatGoogle released the device as a way to learn from the experience and refine future products. However, I also have to make it clear that you can’t place too much emphasis on what might be when you’re reviewing a product; you have to focus on what is. The reality is that today, as in right now and not 6 months or even 6 weeks from now, the Nexus Q is just too expensive and limited to warrant a purchase. You can get the same features and more at a lower cost by purchasing other products, and that’s what my review – and I’m sure most other reviews – boils down to.

With that out of the way, the Q definitely has the potential to be something great. Following the Q’s announcement, I had a conversation with the editors from AndroidGuys and AndroidTapp about how the Nexus Q could just be a spark to something that comes later. Android 3.0 Honeycomb wasn’t the most polished product, but it was an entry point for tablets and gave rise to Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich. Likewise, Google Buzz had to fly and then fall before we got Google+ a year later.

The Nexus Q may follow a similar path. Google might learn that hackers load a lot of games on the device and that they may be able to turn this into a console. A recent hackathon entry shows we’re already halfway there. With the right processor and GPU upgrades in the future, the Nexus Q2 or whatever it’s called might be an interesting casual gaming box. It probably won’t threaten Microsoft or Sony, but it could be a valuable secondary feature for someone who’s perfectly happy playing Shadowgun instead of Gears of War.

Perhaps the apps that developers and enthusiasts load onto the Q – Hulu, Rdio, etc. – might provide the established user base to approach these companies about making content deals that Google TV couldn’t always encourage. Someone might load Google Now as a concept and let Google know that the next iteration should have built-in search and voice commands. We could see get notifications when the dryer is completed or change the thermostat or lighting without leaving the living room. The Nexus Q’s descendants might become the central hub of home automation.

There’s a tremendous amount of possibilities of what the Nexus Q might become, even it’s just a relay point triggered by our phones and tablets. The right combination of usage statistics and community ingenuity might be the inspiration that guides Google’s home device efforts for the next few years. If that’s the case, the Q truly might be a “game changer” as Shepherd theorizes.

I still standby my review of the Nexus Q because I can’t judge a product based on upside. However, I will agree that it’s likely we’re witnessing the first step Google takes toward a truly groundbreaking product. Every baby has to fall a few times before it walks.