It's June 2012, and Google is a very different company. Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich was the latest and greatest, the original Chromecast was still a year from launching, Android TV was two years away, and the Google Home wouldn't launch for two more years after that. At its yearly Google I/O developer conference, Google announces a completely baffling device: the Nexus Q.
For those who haven't been around the Android world for that long, you will have absolutely no idea what the Nexus Q was. And even if you do know about the Nexus Q, you probably never saw or used one.
First, the basics: the Nexus Q was a media streamer designed to connect to your home theater and be controlled remotely by phone apps — it had no interface of its own, other than the ability to rotate the top of the sphere for volume and tap it for play/pause. This shot put-like orb was particularly unique because it didn't fit in to any traditional mold of home theater equipment — and that was the point. It was big, matte black, spherical, and heavy — and an LED ring changed colors to give you status information.
From a nerdy perspective, it's even more interesting when you look at what was inside: this thing ran Android! The then state-of-the-art Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich, actually — and it did so with a smartphone-style dual-core processor, 1GB of RAM, and 16GB of storage. This intriguing little cannonball was also packed with connectivity: Wi-Fi, ethernet, micro HDMI, optical audio, and banana plugs for analog audio.
But despite all of that power and connectivity, the Nexus Q did just three things: played Google Play Music, Google Play Movies & TV, and YouTube. Yes, that's it. Now the way it played media was novel for the time, though — rather than use an interface and remote on the Nexus Q itself, you simply used the Play Music, Play Moves & TV, and YouTube apps on your phone to queue up content. Everyone in the room could see and add to the queue, with the goal of having a fun and collaborative media experience.
The Nexus Q was overbuilt, barely capable, and very expensive — but it was wonderful.
We knew the Nexus Q was ... not a great product, even at the time. All of that incredibly over-built hardware was expensive. At $300, the same price the Nexus 4 would debut for later that year, the Nexus Q had effectively zero potential market. But we still loved it because it was completely over-engineered for everything it did, used Android in an entirely new way, and had so much promise as a concept. It was a very "Google" product.
In May 2013, less than a year after being unveiled, and with having never officially gone on sale, Google completely ended support for the product. A tiny number of Nexus Qs ever made their way out into the world, either from giveaways at Google I/O or a small number of people who pre-ordered them and were refunded their money as a consolation.
But the Nexus Q died so that dramatically better future products could live. As I noted from the start, we can see the DNA of the Nexus Q live on in other incredibly successful products. The first Chromecast, which revolutionized the world of media streaming, clearly built on the Nexus Q's idea of a headless media player and content queueing from a variety of devices. Android TV took over the other side of the equation, with a dedicated media player and more power. And you can even draw the lineage of the original Google Home back to the Nexus Q a well, both from the interface-free Casting experience and physical input mechanisms of rotating and tapping the surface.
There was probably no time or world in which the Nexus Q could have launched and been successful, even if Google really enhanced the experience and executed on the potential of the device. But it still holds a special place in the hearts of early Android enthusiasts, and its legacy can be found throughout Google products today regardless of whether people actually remember it.