Google’s balls

The Nexus Q is being rolled out as a music device — ‘Google’s bid to control the future.’ Jesse Brown explains why it won’t work


The future is all about the past.  The future of technology, it is agreed, is all about television.

The Internet has upended music and shred print.  It has transformed the telephone to a degree where the term itself seems quaint.  The next step for Apple, Amazon, Microsoft, Google or somebody else, is to solve TV. It’s what Steve Jobs died trying to do.

TV viewing is at an all-time high.  For the overwhelming majority of viewers, the experience is pretty much the same as it was twenty years ago.  Most TV screens are islands, disconnected from every other screen its owners use.  As a certainty, this will change soon.  The question is, who will change it?

Have a look at Google’s balls.  The Nexus Q is being rolled out as a music device, but Wired correctly identifies it as “Google’s bid to control the future.” It won’t work.

The Q connects to your speakers and TV and lets you stream free content from Google-owned Youtube or rent movies from Google Play, a less-popular iTunes-like content store in the cloud.  But it doesn’t let you watch video files rented or purchased from rivals like Apple or Amazon.   The Q lets you control your TV from your Android smartphone or tablet, laying waste to the hated remote control.  But it doesn’t let you control your TV with an iPhone or iPad- your mobile device, like your content, must be from Google.  None of these annoying constraints are particular to Google.  AppleTV is just as stifling.  It won’t easily play random .avi files you’ve got kicking around your hard drive, much less let you stream a rival’s content.

TV will be solved, but it won’t be easy. The winner of this war will be whoever can offer a seamless experience that lets different people with different phones and tablets watch and control content from different sources on the same TV screen.  The winner will have to provide live access to sports and news as well as instant connectivity to whatever content we want: downloads or streams, pirated or paid for.  The winner will need to make it easy to buy content from them, but just as easy to get it from a competitor, including competing technologies like Bittorrent or Usenet.

That’s going to take some balls.

Jesse Brown is the host of TVO.org’s Search Engine podcast. He is on Twitter @jessebrown




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Google’s balls

  1. I think you’re right that it’ll fail, but your reasoning is flawed.

    Why wouldn’t Google try to make this work Apple product/services? It’s Apple that won’t allow it. The more people who use this Q, the more likely Google will get sales for their own store. Right now they need those users, and working with Apple products would help.
    I think price is a much bigger problem. The Apple TV is $99.

  2. “It’s what Steve Jobs died trying to do” is a bit sensational. It should have been phrased, “It’s what Steve Jobs died WHILE trying to do.” Your phrasing makes it sound like working on the TV problem is what killed him. Wrong. He was working on it, amongst many other projects, when he happened to die from an unrelated cause.

    But I agree with the gist of the posting in that the walled gardens hurt consumers. Apple is one of the worst offenders. Google comes across as a copy-cat, and adds no additional value.

    Thank goodness that the product vendors and content providers didn’t invent TCP/IP or we wouldn’t have an Internet at all. No two devices would talk to each other.

  3. I wonder why the big TV networks are not getting in on this. As it stands right now they are losing ad revenue because people are increasingly saving programs to DVR and fast-forwarding over commercials. If they change the nature of TV so it’s all broadcast over the internet they could force users to either subscribe to shows or watch commercials without being able to fast-forward over them. They could also provide adult-content, allowing them to compete with cable shows. This would also change the nature of TV so that programs would no-longer have to be tied to a time-slot.

    The way this process should evolve is that people will have their TV’s directly connected to the internet with a Wii-like remote that moves a cursor around the screen by pointing at it. Then they can browse, check email, play games and watch TV by going to network websites. The private sector would develop the computer-like internet boxes that have hard drives and connect to home networks and Bluetooth devices. This generic approach would allow TV to adapt to the internet in new ways instead of trying to adapt the internet to TV.

    • Because they’re content creators/editors/distributors. Not hardware manufacturers, internet providers, cellular distributors, or even technology developers.

      It’s kind of like asking why Kraft Foods aren’t getting in on the refrigerator business.

      • Not really. The big networks got their name from creating giant national telecommunication networks to broadcast their programming. So they should still be in the game, which is now broadband — especially considering they aren’t on the hook for the communications hardware.

        They have a big stake in making generic internet TV a reality which will increase ad revenues. They should be at the forefront of: a) lobbying North American governments to bring broadband speed and price up to developed-nation standards (faster, half the cost, no data caps); b) developing and promoting generic internet TV; c) competing with old-media cable and satellite; and d) providing HD movie content that competes with cable and satellite pay-per-view and Netfilx.

        • They got their name from building broadcast towers. That’d be the “B” in their names.

          And what you’re suggesting is essentially that they build some sort of device that allows you to not only access their content (as Google and Apple do) but also to access all their competitor’s content?

          You do realize there’s more than one network, right? That they’re competing with each other? And that giving your customers easy access to your competitors products generally isn’t something investors are going to approve of?

  4. Hook a computer up to your tv and do whatever you want. Why are we waiting for companies to sell us a ‘solution’ when it already exists?

    • Convenience is king. Do you have all of your TV’s readily accessible to plug a computer into? I don’t. One’s up on a wall. One’s snugged into a tight fit in a TV cabinet. One doesn’t have any sort of DVI connector. I mean, I can set up a PC with each of these if I have to. It’s just a pain in the arse.

      And then there’s when you change which room you’re watching in. Is your computer a light, portable laptop with easy cable connections? Most people’s aren’t. Not yet anyway. And even if it is, how much of a bother is it hauling your laptop around and hooking it up to your TV.. you might as well just watch it on the laptop then.. except that the screen is too small.

      So maybe you hook your computer just up to your main TV.. that’s great. Except when you want to use the computer and your partner wants to watch TV.

      And that’s not even considering the price differential. A PC will run you at least $400.. and actually, if you want it to stream media at decent quality, you’re probably looking more to $600.. if you build it yourself. Meanwhile, these things cost $200, while something like a Roku XD will only set you back $90.

      • Exactly. I guess my point was that we pay for this perceived convenience with the limits of these devices. Any manufacturer will lock you out of other content to maximize their profits. I guess it just makes me a bit sick that most people, because I agree with you about convenience, are enabling corporations to take away any freedom they have with content all because they want a ready made ‘solution’. They’re just computers with locks on them. Most of what you mention as issues are all easily solvable with a home network, cheap re-manufactured or scavenged boxes and one wire going to your tv. Right now, I have an old desktop hooked up to the tv which runs all my content and we do all our computing on a laptop.
        It certainly takes some set up but it is easy and now we can watch any content we want on our tv. No locks.

        • No. It’s not easy. Not for most people. The only reason most people’s DVD players don’t flash 12:00 at them is because they stopped including clocks in the devices.

          There are large businesses set up simply around the fact that most people do not understand how to network devices, and, more to the point, don’t care to know either. Most people want a device that simply plugs in and works. This is the entire concept behind “plug and play”, and given how popular that technology is, those that don’t need it are in the extreme minority.

          Sure, you might find it fun and interesting, and because of that find it easy, but you, like J.D. down below, are not most people. Think of all the areas of knowledge, skill, and ability that you do not have expertise in. Every one of those areas is populated by people who are just like you in that they have the experience and skill in the area, and probably some of them are just as arrogant to wonder, “Why do people pay for service in this area? It’s easy,” and make judgements on how lazy people are that they don’t know it.

      • why yes i can easily hook up my laptop to my tv using HDMI and more laptops are coming out with HDMI

        • Good for you. I’m sure your mother cares.
          The rest of us, however, do not.

  5. “… The winner of this war will be whoever can offer a seamless experience
    that lets different people with different phones and tablets watch and
    control content from different sources on the same TV screen. …”

    Huh? (aka wtf is this?)
    Umm, well Linux/Unix and the Internet has been trying to do that for us, for years now.
    Oh, silly me wait-a-minute, corporate-control-freeks (greed,…) like M$ (with their illegal DRM crap), Apple, Google, Movie Industries and their greedy moguls, … have been doing everything in their power to control/prevent that very thing, as well as trying to prevent many other open and free’er ways for us to reach ALL mediums,…

    • Sorry, but linux couldn’t care less about seamless experiences.
      When the people that use it can start a flame war over any piece of software ( be it an archaic text editor, a login manager, or even a desktop environment) you simply know that there is no such thing as consensus or seamless.
      The only reason Ubuntu even made a dent and became important is because it made a distro that had KISS as a motto.
      That being said, I agree that the proprietary formats and segregation of content pushed by other companies are ridiculous.

  6. The thing I like about Google’s balls is that they are made in North America. It costs a bit more than something like the Apple TV (probably because of this to a degree) but you know that the person who made it was paid a fair wage and worked under labour laws Canadians would recognize.

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