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!
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.