Google announced a consumer media-streaming device it calls the Nexus Q at its I/O conference, taking the fight to Apple, which has largely dominated the landscape of music- and video-friendly consumer devices with items including the iPad and Apple TV.
Q is a sleek, titanium-hued ball that interacts via Android Beam with mobile devices to stream music or video from the cloud to high-quality speakers or TV screens. It will sell for US$299.
Engineering director Joe Britt said the Q is "the first consumer electronics device Google has designed from the ground up."
In the crowded lobby after the opening keynote at I/O, some developers found the device to be at least as exciting as the Nexus 7 tablet Google announced -- if not quite as exciting as the computerized glasses that co-founder Sergey Brin demonstrated by talking a team of skydivers through their dive and into the conference room.
Jay Lee with Dito, a Google Apps reseller, found the Q to be the most exciting announcement in a keynote that also presented the Jelly Bean update to Android.
Combined with the Nexus tablet, the Q will integrate Google products more deeply into consumers' lives.
"As you reach into every aspect of somebody's life, there's going to be more opportunities for integration and personalization," he said. He thought that would drive innovation and bring new opportunities for app monetization.
Q will mean a richer exchange of content between consumers and the cloud, said Thiago Catoto, who works for the Brazilian e-commerce company Magazine Luiza.
"I work pretty much with the cloud, so the integration with the market seems to be a big change. It will be more and more content flowing," he said.
The developers noted that Google needed a competitor to Apple TV, which allows users to select the device on which to display multimedia content. The emphasis on media content, including video content partnerships with Disney, ABC, NBC and Sony, on the Nexus 7 suggested that Google sees Apple's dominance in the consumer music and video arena as an opportunity.
Ahmed Abdallah, with Qello, a live-music app, said Google TV wasn't enough and Q was a "step in a better direction."
"If they incorporate Google TV into the Q I think that's a home run. With the Q on its own, they [would] finally have a competitor to the Apple TV," he said.
He envisioned the next step for the Q: sending video from a phone or a tablet to play on a TV screen.
But Drew Baumann with Fullscreen, a company that helps individuals and brands do well on YouTube, saw the Q as potentially too little too late. He said the device doesn't offer anything substantially new compared to competitors like Apple TV, Roku and Boxee Box. Rather, it consolidates desirable features from each, he said.
He was most impressed by the feature that allows multiple users to control the music queue.
Some limitations on the device could limit its appeal among consumers. Several developers noted that only Android devices can control the orb. Sam Machin, with Telefonica UK, said that because his wife has an iPhone, she wouldn't be able to use the Q if he was out. Given that it costs more than some tablets, Machin saw that as a significant sticking point.
Of course, it was hard to compete with the flashy presentation of Google Glass, even though no new features for the device were announced. But after the skydivers landed, Brin said Google would market a prototype exclusively to I/O attendees for $1500.
The availability made the somewhat far-out project seem more real to developers.
"The fact that Glass is getting to a point where you can actually use it, I love that," Qello's Abdallah said.
Jim McNelis, also with Dito, called Glass "a childhood dream come true" and couldn't wait to pre-order the geekiest, most expensive glasses of all.
Fullscreen's Baumann imagined that the glasses could help users get instructions while they perform tasks, and could even have medical applications.
"With Google, there's a really good chance it will blow up from the development community," he said.
Cameron Scott covers search, web services and privacy for The IDG News Service. Follow Cameron on Twitter at CScott_IDG.
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