Is the Nexus Q the Most Important Product Ever for Google?

Now hold on. Yes I understand that Google recently pulled its Nexus Q off of the Google Play Store. Yes I realize that the Nexus Q had limited features for an outrageous price. And yes I know that reviews were hardly positive for the device. While considering all of these problems, the Nexus Q may still be the most important product ever for Google in recent history. The reason is that it’s the first step for Google in a larger world as a hardware manufacturer. As the first product Google has ever produced entirely in-house, it’s important for the company to get this one right as it will inevitably affect currently successful products like Android moving forward.

Nexus is the new “iProduct.” So you can bet the farm that all Nexus products will be made in-house by Google come fall 2013 – that is if Google can get the Nexus Q right. The hardware space presents a variety of problems like development, distribution, and sales, with perhaps the biggest hurdle: Google’s philosophy. With almost every Google product never making it out of beta, the company has historically unleashed half-baked products that progressively become dominant in their particular space in a very short period of time – Gmail and Android just a few examples. But unlike software, hardware needs to be perfect on release. With software easy to remotely update by the developer, for hardware, it’s impossible.

The Nexus Q just wasn’t ready. It seemed like the Q was rushed into production for Google I/O, rather than holding off to make it better. It also seemed like Google was caught in the middle. While trying to differentiate the Nexus Q for obvious reasons, the greatest problem was the company’s efforts to prevent it from stepping on Google TV’s heals. By stripping down the Nexus Q, it protected Google TV, but it significantly hurt the Q. So now Google has to make a choice. Potentially cannibalize Google TV’s business by adding a significant feature upgrade to compete with products like Roku? Or trickle feed the Nexus Q with a limited level of apps? I bet on going big.

The success of the Nexus Q impacts the future of all Android devices as well. Sure there will always be fragmentation, modulated versions, and different manufacturers as long as Android is open source, but driving a truly in-house brand is important – just ask Apple. Many complain about the fragmentation of Android, but I believe it gave Android scope in the beginning. It allowed customers to try Android through different mediums by offering choice – this is how Android’s market share expanded so rapidly. However, as Android caught up to iOS, its fragmentation is now hindering rather than helping.

All Android phones are not created equal. Imagine if the iPhone existed as it currently has for over five years, but in conjunction, had devices also made by different manufacturers? The iPhone would still be the iPhone, but would also (potentially) have inferior devices along the way devaluing the brand. This is Google’s problem with the Nexus line. Many who complain about Android usually bought the wrong Android phone. By building in-house, this allows customers to make a more apples to Apple(s) comparison (pun intended). Instead of just having a “pure” Google experience offered from another manufacturer, who also has several other devices in development to consider, Google can focus on dictating new standards with Nexus – like Apple used to do.

The Nexus Q is a test. Google needs to make sure that the Nexus line and Google itself are ready for primetime in the hardware space. The company is smart enough not to risk rushing an in-house Nexus tablet (Nexus 7 made by Asus) and Nexus smartphone (potentially Samsung in Q4) quite yet, they’re just too important – but it’s slowly getting there.

With the Q, Google has showed its hand. The Motorola acquisition wasn’t just for patents, and will also drastically impact the company as a whole. Google is no longer just a Web/software company, with 2013 being a year that sees Project Glass come to fruition and a Nexus line entirely built by Google. So how the Nexus Q goes, so goes Google.

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