Google Nexus Q: DIED IN A MONTH! - Krazy Ken’s Tech Talk
- This is the Nexus Q, and Google killed it really fast. In 2012, Google was a $250 billion company with lots of success. So why did their mysterious black Nexus Q orb die in only a month? Let's investigate. (uptempo intriguing music) Hey, everyone.
How are you all doing? If you're new here, welcome. My name is Krazy Ken. And Google is good at many things, but if there's one thing they're really good at, it's killing products. Stadia, +, Wave, Reader, Domains, Inbox, and Glass, just to name a few. And just when you thought Google couldn't kill a product any faster, you meet the Nexus Q. Nexus Q's mission was to be the first social streaming media player made for Google Play at home, and the public got its first taste of it on May 10th, 2011.
Google announced new products at their annual I/O conference, including a new music streaming service named Google Music, which was later named Google Play Music as part of a rebrand in March, 2012. But the big announcement was a new initiative to bring their popular Android operating system beyond the smartphone, Android@Home. This was a new framework for controlling smart appliances and home electronics with an Android device. Maybe you've never heard of this before because Google abandoned it. But Google Home is a thing, so in a way, it lives on.
As part of this Android@Home initiative, Google demoed a prototype digital media player named Project Tungsten. Coincidentally, the atomic symbol for tungsten is W. So that means this product is gonna be a win, right? Project Tungsten lets you play music from your Android device, like a smartphone or tablet, on your speakers.
You can connect your speaker cables to the device, and in effect, you just transformed your traditional wired speakers into wireless speakers. Tungsten was also hypothetically capable of reading an NFC tag inside a CD case. With a simple tap, Tungsten will add all of those CD songs to your music library and stream them to your speakers. This stage demo was merely conceptual. This was not a working feature at the time. Now, I don't know about you, but I love seeing prototype hardware and seeing how it changed throughout time.
Project Tungsten was a rhomboid shape. It was kind of funky and black with these LED strip lights on it and stuff like that, but Google was also experimenting with a sphere shape, which they ultimately stuck with. The stage demo was pretty short, but Google was still working a lot behind the scenes. Google's new music service launched on November 16th, and shortly after, Google filed an FCC request in December to test over 250 experimental units for an entertainment device. These units were tested by employees in four cities for at least six months. So here we are now in December, seven months after the original announcement at Google I/O, and there's been no public release or pre-orders or anything for Project Tungsten.
So was Google still working on it or did it get scrapped? Well, we were about to get a bit of an answer because on February 9th, 2012, something new was posted in the Journal. - He means "The Wall Street Journal" online. - Oh, "The Wall". - The article reported Google was developing a new home entertainment device that would tie in with its new music service. Hmm, these features sound eerily similar to the Project Tungsten stuff they demoed earlier.
So maybe, just maybe, we were about to see a release. So Project Tungsten went on to be Google's first hardware product that they developed and manufactured completely in-house, no overseas manufacturing. So that was new and ambitious.
And about 100 employees toiled away at this project for the next five months. And then on June 27th, 2012, Google officially unveiled the final version of Project Tungsten to the world. Yes, tungsten was now named Nexus Q, and it was spherical. - Spherical. (audience laughs) - And here's a generous thing Google did: every attendee at Google I/O, which was about 6,000 people, got one for free. - You're also gonna be the very first ones to get your hands on a shiny new Nexus Q. (audience cheering)
- Part of me wonders if this was one of those free units, but I guess we'll never know. So let's take a closer look at this beautiful piece of hardware. The Nexus Q is a beautiful black mysterious orb with a flat base. The orb is divided into two halves at a 45 degree angle, and the top half rotates for volume control.
And it also has a tap-to-mute function through a capacitive touch sensor. The rotation is very smooth thanks to this ball bearing, and honestly, it's just fun to play with. Also, this thing kind of looks like the demon core when it's open. Oh gosh.
By the way, this thing is dense. That is the first thing you'll notice when you pick it up. It's like a shot put. Despite its size of 4.6 inches in diameter, it weighs two pounds, which doesn't sound like a lot on paper, but when you pick it up, you'll know what I mean. The bottom half is made of zinc, and the top part feels more like a plastic with a soft satin coating.
Between the two halves is a one-millimeter gap with 32 RGB LEDs, which, let's just be honest, look really freaking cool. But they also serve as a status indicator and a music visualizer. The back has many ports.
Two pairs of banana jacks for left and right speakers, optical audio out, 10/100 Ethernet, micro HDMI, micro USB, and power. The micro USB port is actually pretty sweet because Google encouraged hackability for this device, and we might need to use that soon. (tense music) Now, I have zero banana plugs in my lair. Google used to sell some really neat looking color matched cables for speakers, and they had banana plugs built in, but that accessory was discontinued a long time ago.
So I had to order some third-party ones, no big deal. But then I realized I have no speakers to plug into this thing. So Brainiac Brent and I went thrift shopping and got these speakers for only 10 bucks, which we will test on the Q in a bit. To power these speakers, the Nexus Q uses a built-in 25-watt amplifier. Specifically, it's a Texas Instruments TAS5713 Digital Audio Power Amplifier.
Now, keep in mind, even though the Q kind of looks like smart speaker products we're used to today, like the Echo Dot, the Nexus Q does not have a built-in speaker. Wow, these shapes and color schemes are really similar. I wonder if Amazon borrowed any inspiration from Google.
On top is a blue power LED, which is aligned in such a way where it looks like "It's pointing up at the cloud," according to Simonian, Google engineering director Joe Britt reinforced this by saying, "We didn't want it to be yet another puck that you hide behind the TV." Which is what they ended up making anyway, (laughs) but we're still a couple years away from this, so let's not get ahead of ourselves. For specs, the Nexus Q is powered by an OMAP4460 processor. That's an open multimedia applications platform processor. This is an SoC, System-on-a Chip, developed by Texas Instruments, which contains a dual-core ARM Cortex-A9 CPU, with an integrated PowerVR SGX540 GPU, and one-gigabyte of RAM.
This is a low-power mobile-oriented chip. In fact, it's the same chip in the Galaxy Nexus smartphone. And if you're really bored one night, look up the OMAP4460 manual and give it a read. It's only 5,820 pages. Nexus Q also has 16 gigabytes of flash storage, but this isn't for user content. This is just for the operating system and for cache.
Remember, it's all about content in the cloud. So users don't physically store any media on the device, but that's pretty convenient because then you don't have to worry about running out of space. For wireless, Nexus Q supports 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and NFC, near field communication. This allows you to hold your phone close to the Q and pair it automagically via Android Beam. So that's the hardware.
Now let's take a look at the software. And originally I planned to control this thing with my iPhone clone. I don't know if you remember this, it was pretty funny, but my battery is dead. But thankfully I can charge it with my UGREEN charger.
And why stop there? I can charge my normal iPhone and my MacBook Pro all at the same time with one charger. The Nexode Pro offers up to 100 watts of power and it has USB-C and A connectivity. So when you wake up in a cold sweat realizing you forgot to charge your MacBook Pro and you have a big presentation in one hour, no worries. In 60 minutes, the Nexode Pro can charge a 14-inch MacBook Pro to 86% battery, and it's about half the size of my normal Apple brick.
Just take a look at that. It's about half the size, yet it has 50% more watts and it has triple the ports. The compact size is thanks to the Airpyra Tech and GaNInfinity chips. But Ken, if it's smaller, won't it get hotter? I mean, yeah, probably, it's physics.
Nothing is free. Are you worried about that? No. The Nexode Pro's Thermal Guard monitors the temperature every millisecond to prevent overheating. In 60 minutes, I charged a 14-inch MacBook Pro while powered on from 0% to almost 83%. The Nexode Pro felt warm, but not hot.
Click the links in the description below and get up to 42% off when you get your own Nexode GaN Series chargers. There's many Nexode Pro products to choose from. Get your favorites with the link in the description. Alright, now let's take a look at the Nexus Q software. (wind whooshes) Yeah, there really isn't anything to look at, at least for the Q itself.
It doesn't have a graphical user interface and menu system like what you'd see on an Apple TV, for example. It can function completely without a display if you choose. Instead, the Nexus Q is designed to work in conjunction with your phone. Your phone basically acts like a remote control. To turn your Android phone into this remote, you need to use the Nexus Q app.
Unfortunately, this is as far as I can get with the Nexus Q app nowadays because the ancillary services were shut down over a decade ago. So it's impossible to set up a Nexus Q normally today. But Brainiac Brent is working on a new solution, and he'll give me a call when it's ready. The Nexus Q runs on Google's Android operating system, specifically a modified version of 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich. And back in the day, once you installed the Nexus Q app and synced the Q with your phone, you can now access the Nexus Q connection inside multiple apps like Play Music and Play Movies and TV.
Simply tap the new play icon. Now you can play movies on your TV or music on your bookshelf speakers, or even music on your TV with a cool visualizer. But keep in mind, the media doesn't actually stream from your phone to the Nexus Q. Instead, the phone tells the Q what content the user wants to play from their library. And the Q pulls it from Google Play or YouTube if chosen.
It buffers it in the system memory, and then plays it over the connected speakers and or TV. Now, what's this social thing I talked about earlier? Well, that's where the Nexus Q gets its name. The Nexus Q had a queue feature where if you had multiple people in your home, they could all add music to a playing queue. Everyone can add in their own music from their own libraries and even rearrange the queue whenever they want. What you would do is you would send out invites to people's emails so you can give them access to your Nexus Q.
So then when they were at your house for a party, for example, and connected on your Wi-Fi, they now had control over your Q. That was the new social aspect of the whole thing. In addition, multiple Nexus Qs can be on your network at the same time. So let's say you want two units in different rooms.
This feature lets you play individual queues on separate sets of speakers/TVs. But you could also simultaneously play the same music on all queues at once. So that's the hardware and the software. Seems pretty good, but the excitement didn't last for long. Google opened pre-orders on the day of the I/O event and started shipping in mid-July.
But when people got their hands on the Q, eh, it was met with mixed reviews, and the issues had to do with the software. For starters, you couldn't add third party content services like Hulu, Netflix, or Spotify. So you were locked into Google Services and if you had any locally stored content accessible on your network, the Q wasn't compatible with any of that. Think of a convenient feature like AirPlay with the Apple TV where you can simply stream media from your phone to the big screen. That's a great selling point for a streaming box, but the the Q couldn't do that. Some review sites also noted video quality issues, but I can't confirm that with my own test because of the aforementioned service shutdown.
Thankfully, all of these issues in theory could be fixed with future software updates. The hardware seemed fine. I mean, even this unit I have, which is over 11 years old, looks perfectly fine. So Google added functionality with those software updates, right? Wrong! On July 31st, only one month after the announcement, Google said that they were delaying the Nexus Q launch in order to add more features. But to everyone who placed a pre-order before July 31st, Google just gave you a Nexus Q for free. You get another W, Google. (logo chimes)
Are you sure you're gonna be making money on this thing? It just seemed like Google was letting go of this product already. They quietly de-listed the Nexus Q from the Google Play listing on January 17th, 2013. So now this delay was officially a cancellation.
App Support lived for a little while longer, but in May, the music app lost Q support, then movies and TV lost it in June. And on November 13th, 2013, the YouTube app killed Q support, rendering the Q useless. Okay, not completely useless. It's pretty nice paperweight.
That zinc is dense. But wait, remember that micro USB port? The Nexus Q website said it was for service and support, but Google encouraged hackability. - There's also a micro USB port to connect future accessories and encourage general hackability. (audience cheering) (audience clapping) - Perhaps we can use that to bring this Nexus Q back to life. (phone ringing) Hey, Brent.
- [Brent] I'm ready to fix your Nexus Q. - Wonderful! Banana. Twitter user FiveWings helped point Brainiac Brent in the right direction. XDAforums.com, a website dedicated to operating system tweaking, developing, et cetera, especially mobile operating systems. The Nexus Q is so far past the end of its life that the latest post on this forum is seven years old as of today.
But thanks to hharte, we have a link to a usable Android build for the Nexus Q. The file is CM-11-20140103-UNOFFICIAL-steelhead_TA5713. This may sound like a hodgepodge name, but it's actually very specific to what we need. Cm-11 stands for CyanogenMod version 11, a mobile open-source operating system based on Android. 20140103 is the date the file was made.
January 3rd, 2014. Unofficial simply means it's, well, unofficial. Google didn't make this. Steelhead is the Nexus Q'S code name. Fun fact, Google liked naming Nexus devices after fish.
Hmm, delicious. Quite the opposite of their dessert names. And TAS5713 is the Texas Instruments Amplifier Model in the Nexus Q, meaning this OS build is made specifically to work with that audio output. Different builds work with different outputs. To install this zip file, we'll need to connect the unpowered Nexus Q to a PC via micro USB, and we'll need to download the cm recovery image.
After the download, I plugged the Nexus Q into power and held my hand on the top dome, when the blue LED came on. This boots the Q into fastboot mode which will let us flash firmware to the device. Then, back in Windows in the command prompt, brainiac Brent ran three commands to unlock the Nexus Q'S boot loader, which essentially gives us permission to boot this .img file. Once ClockworkMod Recovery booted and we were presented with this beautiful Apple-esque linen, Brainiac Brent selected install zip from the menu, then install zip from sideload. Then he ran an additional command to load the zip ADB sideload. ADB stands for Android Debug Bridge.
Brent also downloaded a zip file from the Open GApps project, so we can load Stock Google Apps to the Q to make it a little more useful. Ooh, check out that ASCII art. Yes. Then Brent rebooted the system. And if it worked, we should see the CyanogenMod boot screen. (computer dings) (camera beeps) We should see the CyanogenMod boot screen.
(bright music) And eureka, it worked. Oh yeah, gotta optimize those apps. The OS thinks we're on a tablet, but we won't tell it we're actually on an orb.
Shh. Thankfully, we can plug a USB keyboard and mouse into the micro USB port and use a cursor. After applying some settings in the Setup Wizard, we are now at the launcher.
And there we go. Android 4.4.2 KitKat. (computer dings) Oh no, Google has stopped. Oh, look. In device info, the device label reports the Steelhead code name. And this should be familiar, Product: Tungsten.
I love seeing the code words pop up in software. So now we had a spherical Android desktop computer, but we need to actually make it play music. Brent installed Apple Music from Google Play, and surprisingly it worked. And now we'll demo it. But due to copyright laws, we're only gonna play 0.5 seconds of a song. (gentle piano music) Yeah, record labels get a little angry sometimes when you play their music.
So what I'm gonna do is I'm gonna play my own music that I wrote years ago, because I'm not stupid enough to sue myself. (laughs) I mean, not again. To do this, I need an AirPlay application to somewhat recreate the Nexus Q's original functionality where you use it solely with your phone. Brent recommended AirReceiverLite from Google Play.
I installed it and, boom, my iPhone 14 pro immediately showed the Nexus Q in the AirPlay menu. Moment of truth. Let's try it.
(light electronic music) Woo. Oh man, I wrote that a long time ago. (laughs) Okay, now let's try it with one of my episodes from YouTube. I think I just started playing a Jacksfilms video.
Okay, apparently the AirPlay stayed on on my phone. I did not mean to do that. (laughs) And let's see if video works.
Hey! Spreading everything. Yeah, I mean, the quality looks good. The frame rate looks like it's chugging a little bit, but, you know, we're probably overloading it a little bit. Let's take a look. It kind of works. It's pretty cool that we now have the spherical computer operational.
I mean, it's not the fastest thing in the world. There's a little bit of lag here and there, but we're kind of making this thing do a bunch of stuff. It's not really designed to do. - I don't care what anything was designed to do. I care about what it can do.
- But that still leaves us with two remaining questions. And the first one is, why did the Nexus Q fail? The big reason the Q failed was poor market positioning. Market positioning is the process of establishing a brand's image in a consumer's mind. And this image, this identity is what is used to help differentiate different products in a consumer's mind. The Nexus Q is in a market where competitors already existed for years. Apple has been making the Apple TV since 2007, and Roku has been making their boxes since 2008.
So the Q had to do a really good job at standing out and appealing to consumers. And in some ways, it worked really well. The spherical design and the cool LEDs really stood out. No other streaming box had that. Plus the social queue feature was a new concept.
I'm not sure how many people used it, but it was still new. And the banana plugs were also handy. Those connectors weren't on the Apple TV or Roku.
But the Q was still missing some basic features that other competitors had. Take the Apple TV for example. Since 2010, Apple TV supported AirPlay so users could stream content right from their phones to their TV. And Apple supported Home Sharing. So you could stream local content from your PC or Mac on your TV too. And they had the massive iTunes catalog and third-party services like Netflix.
So the Nexus Q is already up against some really tough competition, but that was just the first problem. The second problem was a much bigger problem. The price. At the time of the Nexus Q, the Roku XD was only 80 bucks and the Apple TV was 99 bucks, and the Nexus Q was $299. (duck quacks) Wait, that's gotta be a typo.
Let me check the keynote again. (computer dings) Huh? $299. Google, why would you charge so much for a streaming device with limited features? You sent this product to death row before you even released it. There's no way on Earth you guys could have thought that was a competitive price.
Frankly, I can't confirm why they charged so much for this thing. But a big reason, using my educated guessing here, was that they manufactured everything in-house and they sourced most of the parts from the United States. There's advantages to doing everything in-house, like shorter manufacturing lead times. And I'm not gonna lie, it's cool to see designed and manufactured in the USA on the bottom. But if in-house manufacturing increases your overhead to the point where you have to charge a ridiculous non-competitive price for your product, you're toast. And it's unlikely Google profited from the Nexus Q anyway, because they gave 'em all away for free.
But Google wasn't giving up yet. They learned a lot from their mistakes. And that leads us to the final question. What happened next? Despite Google not wanting to make, quote, "Another puck that you hide behind a TV," they did. Introducing the Nexus Player with a (laughs) much more reasonable $99 price.
This device was introduced on October 15th, 2014, and it served as the launch device for the Smart TV platform, Android TV, which replaced Google TV. Sadly, like many Google things, the Nexus Player didn't last long either. It was discontinued in less than two years in May, 2016. Later that year, Google started phasing out the Nexus brand name in favor of a new one, Pixel. And that has worked out very well for them.
The Pixel branding is still very successful today. Android TV is still around today too. And funny enough, in 2020, Android TV was named back to Google TV. Maybe they'll keep changing the name back and forth every few years.
But there is one more thing, and to see it, we need to rewind a little bit (VCR rewinding) to July 24th, 2013. Again, Google learned from their failures. And with this new knowledge, they went ahead and launched a brand new product.
Chromecast. Everything's Chrome in the future. Chromecast is a $35 streaming stick that you plug into your TV's HDMI port. It's simple.
You play a video on your phone, press the cast button, and, boom, it's now on your TV. Bonus points if you're watching me on a Chromecast right now. And in October, 2017, Google announced they sold 55 million Chromecasts.
This time, Google nailed the formula. Chromecast is a simple device. It works with multiple services. Heck, you can even stream a whole Google Chrome tab to your TV with the Chromecast. And that $35 price point was much more appealing than $299.
And the Chromecast line is still being sold today. Truly, the Nexus Q walked so Chromecast could run. I love this story because it's a good reminder to learn from your failures and keep iterating on your ideas. When you know it's time to cut something and move on, just do it.
Apple did the same thing with the G4 Cube. You can leave your failed projects in the past, but always take the lessons with you. Thanks for watching, and feel free to subscribe for my next episode coming out in a couple weeks. It's a new scam buster. Until then, catch the crazy, and pass it on.
(uptempo music) Here's the problem. You have it set to M for many when it should be set to W for Wumbo.