I swear it’s not as awkward as it looks!

I’m typing this in the kitchen on my iPhone with my bluetooth keyboard, several rooms away from my laptop.

How crazy is that? I graduated from high school in 1999, and I occasionally like to imagine conversations with my past self where I simply describe what I’m doing at a given moment. I have a feeling my past self would be absolutely bewildered by the above description.

And that, in a nutshell is what the Nexus Q represents. It’s a device that is looking at the world of today and saying, “Y’know what? Let’s just skip to the end.”

A few weeks ago, I wrote about why it was so important for XBMC to become Airplay compatible across platforms. The reason it was important (in a nutshell) was because the world is finally taking its first big step away from using an IR remote and an interactive television guide as the means of navigating to video/images/audio on a living room screen.

Today, I can control both XBMC and my A/V Receiver with an iPhone app. If I wanted to go through the hassle of buying the necessary accessories, I could also fully automate my home and turn on my car in the morning with an iPhone (or Android) app. I could open my garage door and listen to music on my car stereo with various mobile apps. I am a Kansas City Royals baseball team fan, and I live right in the heart of Royals nation. Yet it is not a terribly uncommon thing for me to listen to a Royals game using my MLB iPhone app sending audio to my car stereo over bluetooth, rather than listening to the game on FM by simply switching a few dials on my car’s receiver.*

*Admittedly, I’m a pretty weird dude.

Here’s my point: your mobile device, whether phone or tablet, is purpose built for interacting with content. It is specifically designed to make getting to your media (whether written, audio, or video) a simple process that takes, at most, only a few taps. And the best part is, if you don’t like the interface that comes with your mobile device, you can completely replace it with another interface (for Android via skinning, for iOS via installing XBMC).

And that’s awesome, because the reality of the situation is that, unlike your iOS or Android phone or tablet, your television is, not to sugar coat it too much, TERRIBLE at presenting a way to get to your media.

It’s possible that one could read that as an XBMC slam. I promise it’s not. Our amazing Team at XBMC have somehow managed over the course of nearly 10 years to take televisions, with their inherent problems, and create a beautiful, actually enjoyable process for navigating content on them. Honestly, the work that’s been done by smarter people than I is nothing short of miraculous, given the limitations of the so-called 10-foot user interface.*

*The 10-foot user interface, for a brief primer, is the UI that a user interacts with on the TV from his couch, usually with an IR remote.

The 10-foot interface is clumsy. You are limited to up and down arrow presses, along with a few special-purpose hardware buttons that can’t change, no matter how much the software on the TV advances. To extend most of these awkward IR remotes, users have to come up with creative ways to add things like a Context Menu button and buttons that link directly to the applicable libraries using buttons not actually designed for those purposes, and then users have to simply remember these randomly selected buttons forever.

By contrast, the tablet remote is totally software based and completely malleable. Could the software benefit with a “Update Library” button? No problem! One “Update Library” button coming up in the next revision! Want to browse your library and select a show, because you don’t know what, exactly, you want to watch? Congrats, you can browse your library using software up and down arrows, OR you can scan through the entire list directly one your phone without once interrupting the show already in progress!

Oh, you want a button completely dedicated to turning subtitles to German? While we probably won’t make such a button, you can download the code, write in your own button, and then compile and run the software yourself. Sure, it’s effort and probably not worthwhile, but in terms of monetary expenses, it’s totally free. To do the same thing with an IR remote, you’d either have to hack some random button press to do the same thing and then always remember that the number 2 on your remote’s keypad is the “Set subtitles to German” button, or you’d have to physically manufacture an order of 10,000 remote controls at the cost of millions of dollars, and then pray that other people REALLY want a “Set subtitles to German” button on their remote.

The tablet remote control is, hands-down, the better remote. And those of us who might disagree will, in short order, sound like the same people who complained about TVs not having dials anymore. *

*I had to set VHF to channel 4 in order to tune UHF. The memories!

Contrary to popular belief, the Nexus Q is not going to be attacking Zion any time in the near future… probably.

This is where the Nexus Q comes in. There were clearly some Google Special Projects people who said, “Hey, the entire 10-foot user interface idea sucks, and tablet interactions rock. Why don’t we just skip the 10-foot interface altogether?”

The rest of the design team must surely have stopped what they were doing, thought about it, had a fierce argument, and then said, “Actually, that’s an interesting concept.”

And they were right. It IS an interesting concept. If you set aside all the failings, the Nexus Q* is the first TV hub device in the world that decided to be awesome and say, “Screw the 10-foot UI entirely!”

*It also does one thing that I’d really like to see in a future iteration of an XBMC remote. Specifically, it will play videos from its library as commanded by a remote control tablet, and will also play media that is actually on the tablet that’s acting as the remote control. It’d be pretty nice if the iOS and Android XBMC remotes also had the ability to play local content natively and airplay that local content to the living room XBMC box, in addition to their current abilities at commanding the living room XBMC box to do things.

Of course, with that said, you can’t really set aside the failings of the Nexus Q. It’s expensive (ridiculously so, compared to the Apple TV, and doubly ridiculously so compared to something like the Raspberry Pi). It’s inexplicably also an A/V receiver that can accept banana plugs, but not enough banana plugs for 7.1 or even 5.1 sound. And it’s designed exclusively for the Android environment. Microsoft, with its Xbox Smart Glass, was at least smart enough to make apps for the competing tablets of the world.

On the other hand, it’d make a pretty sweet XBMC box, if somebody managed to port XBMC to Android.

Here’s my thinking: If Google designed exactly the same box (sphere?) as the Nexus Q, but somehow made the banana plug ports (and all the additional hardware except an HDMI port, an ethernet port or two, and possibly a toslink port) optional (and 5.1), and then you priced it around the same price as an Airport Express or Apple TV,* Google would have one of the coolest pieces of kit on the planet.

*Or, heck, priced it as both put together, if it could also act as a wireless router.

Google could then double that coolness if they managed to stick XBMC on there. Maybe triple the coolness if they added bluetooth and made optional (and reasonably overpriced) bluetooth controller accessories that enabled Android and retro gaming.

I’d sure as heck consider buying something like that.*

*If they then went above and beyond and added HDMI-CEC control so that the sphere could turn your TV on and off when appropriate, I’d consider buying a dozen!**

**I am, obviously, a crafty consumer.

If Google doesn’t do that, or at least some part of that, I’m afraid the Google Nexus Q and its progeny will go the boring and pointless way of the Google TV.

So… um… get on it Mountain View. Make the random musings of an XBMC Project Manager a reality.

Nexus Q Image via AnandTech.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001899236281 Sarah Nicole Skanes

    While I approve of the idea of using phones and tablets as the “remote”
    for TVs, I don’t think completely getting rid of 10-foot displays is a
    smart idea. I think it should always be there, if only hidden away until
    somebody points a remote at the TV and presses a button. It’s always
    good to have the choice. I for one like looking at full 1080p fanart
    using Aeon Nox’s BigFan display mode. 

    • GigaMuppet

       I think you need to read the article again.  Difference between Feet (ft) and Pixels (Px) and the 10Ft actually refers to the distance between you and the TV.  *sigh

      A 10Ft TV would have a 120″ (that’s inches) Screen.

  • Neppeligen

    I still won’t buy it. I have about 250 DVDs at home, and I need something with a optical drive to play them. I won’t illegaly download every one – and some can’t even be found anymore. Or rip them.
    And I sure as hell won’t buy them in digital form when I already own the DVD.

    Also I won’t pay to stream stuff from different services when I’ve got 4Tb of music and tv series on my own NAS.
    An good old HTPC with an DVD drive and 5.1 connectors and XBMC is good for me.

    • GigaMuppet

       So you didn’t illegally download 4TB of Music and TV Series?  or were they ripped? . . . You still have VHS?  *pah!

      • xtra

        not the point he was trying to make, pedant

  • http://twitter.com/rfolstad RF 

    Totally agree, an amp with 2 speaker output?!  This thing has HDMI out too right?  So im guessing you can get 7.1 audio to your amp through that?  I’m left wondering why isn’t this just an app for android instead of a piece of hardware.  My Galaxy Nexus has all the capabilities of this box minus the amp.  What am i missing?

  • Stammie1609

    I’m missing something here, you’re talking about a limited $300 device combined with expensive tablet/phone remotes,
    surely the coolest thing about xbmc is how great it not only looks (with a little effort) and works with very limited hardware?
    As much as I love xbmc its now becoming a bane in my life, as soon as friends and family see even my small bedroom htpc $200 box working with my $5 remote I get more and more “please set that up for me requests”
    Forget Nexux Q, Apple etc if XBMC was made just a little bit less geekyand more numpty friendly to use and set up world domination would be yours in the home media centre market

  • Dude

    I’ve been using XBMC with the Android app but have finally bought a proper remote because nothing beat the tactile response from actual physical buttons. You can control things without having to look at the phone/iPad/whatever when moving to different buttons. That and the “socket timeout” errors that are still present, kinda makes the traditional remote more “wife friendly” in my case. But hey, apparently I an old fogie and am resistant to “new ideas” even when those new ideas have shortfalls articles like this fail to address.

    • NathanBetzen

      There’s no denying that this sort of idea will never work so long as socket timeouts continue to exist. As far as tactile feedback goes, the benefit of tactile feedback is when you don’t want to look at your remote to control what’s on the screen. While I suppose there’s some value still in that for non-navigation things like volume control, the idea this article is presenting is one where there isn’t a 10 foot interface at all, so there’s nothing to look at on the TV when you are busy navigating the menus that are only visible on your phone. 

      Point being, since you won’t be looking at your TV to navigate to your content (in this scenario), you shouldn’t need tactile feedback any more than you need it right now to navigate any other app on your iPhone or Android device. That’s not really a shortfall. That’s simply a difference of opinion on how to operate a TV altogether.

  • Harley Davidson

    Way too expensive for what it does, nuff said!

    Too expensive even if XBMC did run on it :(

    • Adam Koch

      One of the main reasons for the high price is it’s actually manufactured in the US, unlike every single one of its competitors.  Labor costs more here. I’d rather subsidize a working family domestically than have .01% of the price of an ATV go to some poor Chinese factory worker.

  • jjense01

    It would be enough for me if the remote apps on Android/iPhone simply supported “browse and play” to the large screen for all the fantastics addons in xbmc the same way they do local content.  I don’t care to ever use a remote to navigate my big screen again.  I’d rather have my large screen look like a painting/family portrat or display time/temp/news/music artists until I pick something to watch via my tablet/phone.  After I pick it, I put the tab/phone down, lean back and enjoy. 

    Another solution would be if XBMC on iOS supported Airplay out and optimized the use of both screens (which is a work in progress I believe) and also supported mapping XBMC addons and local content menus to the home screen of the iPad (don’t believe that’s possible, right?).  I would love it if the Hulu thumb for XBMC lived on my iPad’s home screen and then when I pick a show after launching it I can airplay said show to my large screen.  I see the iPad as my menu, and the large screen as my dessert:)

    Sorry, not very well thought out post as I don’t have much time…sorry if I rambled, but going to submit it anyway:)  Thanks for scratching my XBMC itch.  

    • NathanBetzen

      The painting/family portrait idea is a neat one. I like that.

      • jjense01

        I would say Chromecast is pretty close to my vision :) . Does this post allow me to become a patent troll? :) . – jjense01

  • Parth Suthar

    We would be more than happy to realize this vision with all the bells and whistles of nexus q + adk with an open os+store.