Google stops selling Nexus Q

Night before last, I rented "Batman Begins" in glorious high-definition, to refresh my memory and complete recent watching "The Dark Night Rises". I didn't use Apple TV, Google TV, Roku or any other set-top box but the ultra-cool, pulsing blue-LED lit Nexus Q, using my Android phone as remote. Once again, the entertainment device hugely satisfied, and I hat tipped to invisible Nexus Q owners sharing similar experience.

Except they won't. Perhaps not anytime soon. For the second time in just two weeks, Google yanked a new product from the Play store. First the 16GB Nexus 7, which is available for sale again, and now the great black sphere -- the Nexus Q. If you preordered, Google won't disappoint. A free one, like the Q I got at Google I/O last month, is headed your way. For everyone else, the device is delayed, its status changed to "coming soon" at Google Play.

I'm really surprised by this development. Nexus Q is Google's first consumer-electronics device, which makes it something of a landmark for the search and information giant. As explained in my first-impressions review, Nexus Q is a remarkable product. The sphere changes fundamental concepts about entertainment. Content is in the cloud. Smartphones control the device, and they're also where users interact with content (e.g., small versus big screen).

Users can share, say, music on the same device -- not one but anyone is in control -- and all without wonky, local digital rights management. Nexus Q attaches to any modern TV or sound system, and because content is in the cloud it's available anywhere the device goes. The sphere is beautifully constructed, too. Google rightly calls Q the "first social streaming media player", and there's truth in the claim.

Definitively Delayed

Google promises one thing, but delivers another. Today, people plunking down $299 for the device received a surprise email:

We have an important update about your Nexus Q pre-order.

When we announced Nexus Q at Google I/O, we gave away devices to attendees for an early preview.
The industrial design and hardware were met with great enthusiasm. We also heard initial feedback from users that they want Nexus Q to do even more than it does today. In response, we have decided to postpone the consumer launch of Nexus Q while we work on making it even better.

To thank you for your early interest, we’d like to extend the Nexus Q preview to consumers who preordered and send you a free device. If you had other items in your order, your credit card will be charged for those items only.

Your Nexus Q will be on its way soon and you will receive a notification and tracking number from Google Play when it ships.

The Nexus Q Team

That's a helluva nice gesture. But what about everyone else? A Google spokesperson confirms the "consumer delay of Nexus Q". Let me tell you from covering tech companies for close to 20 years, "delay" is a rarity. PR people avoid the word like the virus in "Contagion". So I take "delay" quite seriously but attach no negative connotations to it. Google wants to change something about the cloud-software experience -- otherwise those preordering wouldn't get free hardware.

Nexus Q didn't meet the best of reviews. I really like mine, but also recognize quirks. In my first-impressions review, while praising Q, I also cautioned: "The media streaming device isn't for everyone and may not be for most people". Much depends on how deeply people are embedded in the Android and Google cloud lifestyles.

Customers React

Ted Mentele, who preordered Nexus Q, received one of the emails. "I'm pretty glad as the reviews were quite poor; very classy from G".

Ian Lake "bought a Google I/O Nexus Q (read my first impressions here) and I continue to use it daily. For me, Google Music and YouTube are extremely useful". From his review:

Overall, I am impressed and I'm looking forward to spending quite a bit more time with it. Build quality is impressive and I can't think of a more future proof set of hardware to built upon. I'd still recommend finding a used Google I/O one at this point as I'm sure there's some waiting to find a permanent home.

That's even better advice, now that the I/O model will be the only one available for awhile.

"I preordered the device on Day 1", says Brian Wilcox (I'm pretty sure we're not directly related). "I did get the email today saying that I'm getting a free dev unit. I like getting a free device, I don't like that Google is so self-conscious about this device that they listened to all the nay-sayers on the Internet. We'll just have to see".

John McLaughlin has some advice for Google:

I'm glad they are re-factoring it -- I got one at I/O and while it looks great and has some very interesting features it's not that practical or useful (for me anyway) especially compared with the other options available.

What I would like to see (in no particular order):

  • Web interface for streaming
  • Built in apps like Pandora
  • iOS client
  • Tighter Android integration

Will the consumer Q be worth the wait? If Google pulled this during the holidays, this post would bite more. But the company still has plenty of time to bring back Q for November-December distribution. I wonder: How broadly? Nexus 7 has surprisingly broad retail store availability. If Google hopes for something similar or better, perhaps retailers want assurances, particularly after so many reviewers gave the device so-so marks. That's pure speculation on my part.

But I can say with certainty: Google shouldn't miss Christmas 2012. Slight delay could mean a more attractive device for consumers. A delay that misses holiday sales would make Q an absolute failure.

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