Android TV: The History Of The Nexus Player

For many people the Nexus Player has changed the way in which they consume TV. This is irrespective of whether any of those people ever owned the device, as the Nexus Player was the first device made available to consumers running on Android TV. It was the proof-of-concept product for the platform and one which paved the way for the rest of the TV boxes and TVs powered by Android TV that followed suit. Therefore, for anyone who owns an Android TV-enabled device, the Nexus Player was the one that started it all.

How it all began

While the Nexus Player is accredited with being the first consumer-ready hardware product running Android TV, it was not the first device released for the platform. That title has always belonged to the ADT-1. A device which was primarily made available to developers as part of the initial Android TV launch at Google I/O in 2014. Back in the day, it was understood the original plan was for the ADT-1 to be released as the first device available to consumers although by September of 2014, this seemed to no longer be the case. Fast-forward a few more weeks to October 15, 2014, and along with announcing the Motorola Nexus 6 and the HTC Nexus 9, Google unveiled its first proper Android TV solution, the Nexus Player. A collaborative effort along with ASUS and Intel.

In terms of the design, and in spite of arriving long before Google unveiled its Made by Google concept, traits of what Google would be like as a hardware company were evident in the Nexus Player, as this was just about as simple as a device could get. It sported a small 'hockey puck' shape along with a black all-over color. The device was seemingly void of buttons, lights, a display, and just about any other discerning characteristic. The only obviously visible aspect was the “Nexus” branding located front and center on the top of the puck. The rear of the device was just as simplistic (for a TV box) housing the DC port, a single HDMI port, a microUSB Type-B port (for development purposes) and that's about it. The bottom of the Nexus Player is where the only physical button could be found (along with the ASUS branding), although even this button was to be used sparingly as its primary purpose was to reset the box as and when needed. Accompanying the Nexus Player was the remote control which once again employed a very basic design compared to many of the TV remote controls available at the time. It had more vacant space than buttons and even lacked in some of the more fundamental button controls which to most people would be unimaginable on a remote control. For example, the remote did not contain dedicated volume control forcing the viewer to use an existing TV remote control to adjust the volume.

At first, many wondered where the Nexus Player would find its place in the market and especially considering the company already had its high-flying Chromecast dongle on sale. This was even more relevant as the Chromecast was significantly more affordable compared to the Nexus Player - announced along with a $99 price tag attached. However, the Nexus Player did prove to be a popular alternative as in spite of its higher price and its seemingly vacant design, it was a more robust and TV-dedicated unit. Owners no longer had to wait for apps to gain Chromecast support or even worry about having their smartphone nearby with the Nexus Player offering its own app-based solution, stationary positioning, and dedicated remote control.

Standing up to the competition

With the Nexus Player being the first device to be commercially released running Android TV, it was always destined to be limited in how well it could compete with third-party options that followed. Over the next few years competing options were released by the likes of NVIDIA, Razer, and Xiaomi. As well as a number of operator-level boxes. By far, the NVIDIA SHIELD (2015 and 2017) has proven to be the most powerful of these boxes although all of them were technically more advanced when compared to the Nexus Player; sporting the latest connection technologies, faster and greater computing power, and in some cases, higher resolution support.

In spite of this, the Nexus Player remained one of the better options for those looking for a box-based device. One of the reasons for this was the heightened level of software support afforded to the Nexus Player, and in particular, in terms of OS update support. This was, after all, a Nexus device, and by association was made privy to Android OS upgrades before they were released to other devices. In fact, this was considered the ‘developer box’ by many as the Nexus Player was eligible to receive Android OS upgrades in the form of developer previews, as and when they became available. Making the Nexus Player an ideal hardware testing platform for developers looking for a physical device to test and debug with, instead of having to solely rely on the virtual emulator provided with Android Studio.

To date, it is the only Android TV device that has seen an Android 8.0 (Oreo) upgrade released for it. Making it the most up-to-date Android TV box in homes today.

The start of the end

In truth, it is hard to pinpoint the exact moment the end started although many will consider May of 2016 to be that time. This was when Google officially started to confirm it was discontinuing sales of the Nexus Player. However, this was only the start of the now-confirmed period as the writing had been on the wall for some time before May of that year. For example, as early as October, 2015 (exactly one year after launch), the first signs of the Nexus Player nearing the end of its shelf life started to appear as this was about the time when its price starting dramatically fluctuating. Like any device, the Nexus Player had been subject to a number of sales at varying times before this point but as of October, 2015, the Nexus Player for the first time started showing up in clearance bins in a number of retailers. At one point, it was available to buy from as low as $24.98 through Target - a quarter of the price it had launched for just twelve months before.

From this point on the Nexus Player never really managed to re-establish its retail price point and instead entered a period of uncertainty where the price fluctuated just as much as the stock level. This continued for the months that followed with the Nexus Player coming in and out of stock at various times, and at multiple retailers. Although by March of 2016 the Nexus Player seemed to be completely out of stock at all major retailers in the US. Adding to that, by this time a number of retailers had already delisted the Nexus Player from their site - a sign of things to come. The only change to this pattern occurred in April when the Google Store suddenly had a limited amount of stock available, albeit at its original $99 price. Which by now was considered by many to be a highly-inflated price thanks to the price crash that had taken place during the preceding months. A month later saw May arrive, and with it, the Nexus Player was officially discontinued. So while many will consider the May confirmation to be the start of the end, the true start can be dated back to around October of 2015.

The end of the end

The end of the end is far less debatable as this occurred much more recently. Within the last month, in fact. As this is when Google announced the first developer preview of Android P. As is the case with all developer previews, the announcement came with the option for those who own a compatible device to upgrade that device to the alpha version of P. This should have included the Nexus Player but that was not to be the case. Instead, and in the process of launching the first developer preview of Android P, Google effectively confirmed the end of major OS support for the Nexus program in general. This not only meant the Nexus 5X and 6P smartphones would not be seeing an upgrade to Android P, but also the Nexus Player. The first time in its history the Nexus Player was not included. With no sales channels open anymore, and the lack of any software update support, March of 2018 is certainly when the end of the end of the Nexus Player took place. Getting right into the detail, March 7, 2018, was the start of ‘the end of the end’ and March 22, 2018, was officially the end of the end as this was the first time Google officially voiced the Nexus Player would not be updated to Android P.

Wrap up

The Nexus Player rightfully is now an iconic device in the world of Android TV. In spite of it now being considered a forgotten device in terms of sales and support, it remains the one that successfully fought through a turbulent few early years in the Android TV timeline. To date, there is no Android TV device on the market running a version of Android as new as the one now running on the Nexus Player. Likewise, to date, there are few, if any, Android devices (TV or otherwise) that have seen the level of software support offered to the Nexus Player. In spite of launching on Android 5.0 (Lollipop), it was one of the first Android devices in general to see its upgrade to Android 6.0 (Marshmallow), Android 7.0 (Nougat), and Android 8.0 (Oreo). This level of support has proven invaluable to the Nexus Player and the sole reason as to why some people are still using the device today. Arguably, if it had remained on sale over the last year or two it would have continued to sell well enough due to the level of support it has since become known for. So although it has now rather silently and unceremoniously bowed out, the Nexus Player has, time and time again, proved itself to be a major Android TV player, and one that highlights the importance of sustained software support.

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About the Author
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John Anon

Editor-in-Chief
John has been writing about and reviewing tech products since 2014 after making the transition from writing about and reviewing airlines. With a background in Psychology, John has a particular interest in the science and future of the industry. Besides adopting the Managing Editor role at AH John also covers much of the news surrounding audio and visual tech, including cord-cutting, the state of Pay-TV, and Android TV. Contact him at [email protected]