Google (probably accidentally) leaked some details of the Nexus Q before today's I/O event even started. It's a streaming...I almost said box, but it's actually more like an orb. It's somewhere between a Sonos system, which streams music to stations in different parts of your house, and an Apple TV, which streams music and video to your TV. And I think it's very exciting. Here's why.
This is a feature I'd never have thought of, but makes perfect sense. The Nexus Q, according to the leaked documents, has a built-in 25W amp. That's not crazy-powerful, but it's definitely good enough to power a set of bookshelf speakers. Bookshelf speakers have a pretty excellent quality to price ratio; for thirty bucks you can get this pair of Dayton speakers, which sound great. All of a sudden, you've got a legit, internet-connected stereo. I think it'll motivate people to stop using their TV's built-in speakers if the cost of entry is only $30. (Google appears to be selling some speakers named "Triad," probably for an extra $100 on top of the $299 the Nexus Q costs.) And I want everyone to have great sound in their living rooms!
NFC, or near-field communication (check out our primer if you're not sure what this is) is becoming more and more common--the new Samsung Galaxy S III uses it really well, and the next-generation iPhone is heavily rumored to have it as well. NFC could be used to easily pair your phone with your set-top box. Airplay, Apple's protocol (man, that word makes it sound scarier than it is) is easy to use: you're playing a video or song on your iPhone or iPad or Mac, you press a button, and it shows up on your TV. But you still have to login to the same Wi-Fi network ("what's your password? Is that all lowercase?"). One of NFC's nicest, simplest features is automatic pairing: tap your phone to a device, and it'll trigger Wi-Fi or Bluetooth and automatically connect. No more messing with settings or menus: if you have guests over who want to control the music, they can just tap their phones on the Nexus Q to connect. Easy.
I love Airplay, but one thing Apple has never been great at is on-the-fly playlists (though there are aftermarket alternatives). You don't always want to create a new playlist and save it for eternity as a neo-mixtape work of art. Sometimes you just want to hear this song after this song, and then this song after that. The Nexus Q gets it. At a party, which is one of my favorite uses for Airplay, you can have a truly collaborative, unique playlist. Anyone can tap their phone to the Nexus Q, then add their favorite song to the playlist, or rearrange it, right there, on the fly. Awesome.
Home automation is still in its infant stages, and we've been wondering for a year where Google's Android@Home initiative went--announced exactly one year ago at 2011's I/O conference, it promised to link up your entire home so you could control it with your smartphone. It then vanished. But the Nexus Q is the first product in the Android@Home field, and it's a great start. Today, your media. Tomorrow, your refrigerator.
I am not of the opinion that all hardware should be used and not seen. I'm not in favor of garishness either, but I think gadgets should be allowed to look cool and different. The Nexus Q looks pretty different! It's an orb, bisected with a glowing blue ring that pulses with the beat of your music (hopefully you can turn that off. That's a little much.). You twist the entire top half of the orb to change the volume. I think it looks cool! Cool and weird!
Of course, there are some things about it that I don't like. It's too expensive, for sure. At $300, it's twice as much as a Boxee Box, three times as much as an Apple TV and three times as much as a top-of-the-line Roku. I suppose you could argue that it includes an internal amp, saving you the cost of buying one, but it's a fairly low-powered amp and you can get a surprisingly decent one of those for $30.
It also seems to only support Android. That's a terrible choice! I mean, yes, Airplay only supports iOS for mobile, but that's also a terrible choice, and Google is supposed to be the company that embraces openness. And I'm not sure how it'll be with streaming different files--does it work with Rdio or Spotify? Does it stream downloaded video? Does it have Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon on Demand? But I think it's promising, and I'm hoping Google can take these cool elements and make them into a whole that really works. It'll be available for pre-order today, and will ship in a couple of weeks.
Five amazing, clean technologies that will set us free, in this month's energy-focused issue. Also: how to build a better bomb detector, the robotic toys that are raising your children, a human catapult, the world's smallest arcade, and much more.