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  1. What Is the Nexus Q? / What Can Users Do with the Nexus Q?
  2. What Can Developers Do with the Nexus Q? / Google Responds to Feedback
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What Can Developers Do with the Nexus Q?

During the announcement of the Nexus Q at Google I/O 2012, Google made it clear that the Nexus Q is not a locked-down device, and developers could easily hack it. Indeed, the Nexus Q is just like any Android device. All you have to do to load apps on it is turn on USB debugging by using the Nexus Q app on your phone, and then connect the device to your development computer with a USB cable. From there, you can easily load your apps on the Nexus Q. The USB port can also be used for a keyboard and mouse, and HDMI for screen output. You can write any apps you like. We wrote a proof-of-concept app that starts playback of any streaming audio from a command sent by a remote device (replacing that old phone we use to listen to the news). Other developers have tried loading different versions of the Android operating system, loading app launchers to make starting apps easier, and even loading Google Apps for access to Google Play.

While all of these options are great for developers, none are very useful for regular end users. We assumed that Google would make available a software development kit—or at least documentation on how to integrate third-party content with the queue on the Nexus Q. This would allow any third-party application to control the Nexus Q, much like Play Music or Play Movies & TV do now. Alas, we haven't seen anything of the sort yet. We did some poking around ourselves, using logcat on the local device and Nexus Q, and found that the Google apps do seem to use some sort of API with the MediaRouter Android API, new to Android 4.1 (API Level 16, Jelly Bean). With no documentation available, little progress has been made on reverse-engineering the API or protocol used. If Google isn't ready to share it, the API or protocol could change, so developers should be cautious about developing Nexus Q apps based on reverse-engineered information. Makers of large commercial applications would also be silly to try to use something so undocumented.

Google Responds to Feedback

The feedback around the Nexus Q has been mixed. While the look of the device (slick), the "made in the USA" part (bravo!), and the fact that thousands of people received one for free at Google I/O (thanks!) have all been great, the device remains a somewhat perplexing piece of hardware with no obvious "home" in the typical household. In particular, consumers easily see that Google TV devices do a lot more and usually cost less. While they may not have a speaker amplifier, we're guessing that this feature will sit unused for those who are not audiophiles. Indeed, the Nexus Q's software features are simple enough that most people wonder why the Q technology isn't simply used to turn any Android device into a Nexus Q endpoint.

The Nexus Q preorders have sold out on Google Play, but the many Google I/O developers who received the devices at the conference have given mixed feedback to the Google team. As this article was written, Google announced that the Nexus Q consumer release is being delayed indefinitely so that Google can add more features. Exactly what this means, no one seems to know. All the people who preordered the device received a happy email message, though: Google is honoring all preorders, but not charging for them. So yet another group of people will be receiving a free Nexus Q.

What will become of the Nexus Q now? Who knows? But with unknown thousands out there, it will remain an intriguing device for many.

Conclusion

In its current form, the Nexus Q is little more than a spherical media player with a speaker amp. Skilled developers can create applications for it, put alternative operating systems on it, and generally get a lot of good use out of it, but the device offers no compelling features that are unavailable in other household electronics. For now, Google has gone back to the drawing board to add new features. Will these be APIs for third-party developers to push their own media to the queue on the Nexus Q? More apps on the Nexus Q itself? We hope we won't have to wait long for these answers.

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