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The Nexus Q, Google’s attempt to develop a product to stream media, certainly looks cool: a black orb with a neon stripe around its circumference. Whereas the designers thus succeeded in the aesthetic side, they might have needed to spend a little more time on making sure the device provided a bit more functionality.

Specifically, the Q enables users to listen to music through speakers or play videos on television screens, sourced from their smartphones (Android-based only) or tablets. In this sense, it is not unlike competitive offerings, such as Apple TV and Roku. However, the Nexus Q was priced higher than these alternatives, and it suffered limitations, such as being controlled only by Android devices.

As a result, just five weeks after Google announced its new offering, it pushed the Nexus Q launch date back indefinitely. The struggle appears indicative of Google’s innovation strengths, and its weaknesses. Thus far, Google has innovated through new software. Its strategy was to release new versions as soon as they were ready, then fix any bugs that cropped up over time. Apparently, it applied a similar strategy to innovating hardware, and the method simply did not translate well. A consumer who spends nearly $300 to get the Q is not likely to wait patiently while Google devises fixes to make the tool work better.

For Google to remain competitive in electronic markets though, it needs to find a new route to hardware innovation. Users of storage devices tend to purchase content from the linked provider—Kindle users find e-books to buy from Amazon, and iPod customers get their music from iTunes. If Google wants to dominate the technology-enabled media market (and its recent purchase of Motorola, the mobile telephone manufacturer, suggests that it does), it needs to find a way to get people to look to Google to find their music and entertainment.

Its planned next step, if it can get the Q right, is to connect all the devices in a consumer’s home to the Internet, not just the television or music speakers. Imagine the possibilities: A Google-connected refrigerator could tell users where to find the best deal on milk, after noting that the contents of the current gallon are getting low. A Google-related clothes dryer could continually manage the heat levels to avoid any shrunken clothes but get things dry in the fastest time. The promise of such innovations, as well as the possibility of being a prominent partner in all aspects of consumers’ lives, will continue to push Google to keep trying to come up with new devices. It just needs to get better at it.

Discussion Question

  1. Why is Google trying to develop new hardware products when its expertise mainly focuses on software?

Source: Claire Cain Miller, “Google Goes Back to Drawing Board for Nexus Q,” The New York Times, August 8, 2012