Google has filed paperwork with the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for a mysterious new media player device, leading to widespread speculation that a successor to the ill-fated Nexus Q may be forthcoming. But if that's true, what's with the Douglas Adams references?
The paperwork, published on the FCC's site on Friday, describes something cryptically called the "H840 Device," which the accompanying test report says "functions as a media player."
That seems logical enough. The Chocolate Factory has attempted a standalone media device before, in the form of the Nexus Q, an intriguing, spherical gadget that could stream music and movies from Google Play.
That has led many to assume the H840 must be Google's second attempt at such a device. But there are several reasons to suspect the H840 might be something quite different, too.
The most obvious is that the Nexus Q was a resounding bomb. Introduced at the Google I/O conference in June 2012, where some 6,000 developers were handed them for free, it was withdrawn just one month later, before the first batch of presale customers had even received their devices. We've heard not so much as a murmur of a successor ever since, and no one we know has been clamoring for one, either.
If that wasn't reason enough for skepticism, there's another oddity in Friday's FCC filing that should raise eyebrows even further. The device might be called the H840, but it's model number is completely different. Technically, it's the "Model H2G2-42."
We can only assume that designation is a reference both to Adam's Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy franchise – which already has been immortalized at www.H2G2.com – and to the number 42, which Adams' books hailed as "the Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything."
If so, however, what on earth any of that has to do with a device that lets you stream such vacuous schlock as Michael Bay's Transformers: Dark of the Moon – a free online copy of which was given to every developer who received a Nexus Q – is anybody's guess.
There are a couple of possibilities. The first – and maybe the most likely – is that it's just a cute model number, and that the H840 really is nothing more than Google's next attempt to do a standalone media-streaming device properly.
There were certainly a number of things wrong with the original Nexus Q. First, its black plastic sphere had no external controls, meaning you needed a separate Android phone or tablet with a special app installed to do anything with it – and only devices running newer versions of Android would do.
Were you really going to shell out your hard-earned cash for a device that worked like this?
Second, it only supported Google Play out of the box, and not third-party streaming services such as Netflix or Hulu Plus. And to make matters worse, although the Nexus Q was an Android device, it was purpose-built, with no way to install third-party apps or add-ons from the Google Play store.
The H840's FCC filing, naturally, doesn't address any of this, since the actual workings of the device remain shrouded in secrecy. But it does point out a couple of potential differences between the H840 and the Nexus Q.
For one, the filing says that the H840 supports 802.11b/g/n. So did the Nexus Q, but it also supported Bluetooth and Near Field Communications (NFC), neither of which is specifically mentioned in the filing.
There was also a lot of hoo-hah about how the Nexus Q was manufactured in the US (even if its component parts weren't). The H840's documents, on the other hand, list its manufacturer as Singapore-based Flextronics.
Flextronics has previously been known for building Microsoft's Zune and Xbox lines, among other devices, which seems to lend some credibility to the idea that the H840 will be just another standalone media device.
What would be more intriguing, however, would be if the H2G2-42 designation was a hint, and that Google's new device will have far more to do with Adams' science fiction creations than did the Nexus Q – or has any other device, before or since.
Within the fictional universe of the Hitchhiker's Guide series, the eponymous guidebook was an electronic device described as "a wholly remarkable book" that had "already supplanted the Encyclopedia Galactica as the standard repository of all knowledge and wisdom" – though, in true Wikipedia fashion, that "wisdom" often proved fairly dubious.
It's worth noting that Google already manages a sizeable collection of written media, in the form of Google Books and the book section of the Google Play store. It is possible that the online giant might be planning some kind of "media playing" device that ties more closely into these properties, to compete more closely with Amazon's Kindle line.
Only time will tell, of course. But if Google wants the H840 to sell, whatever it is, we advise its marketing department take a cue from that of the fictional Hitchhiker's Guide, which managed to make the book a bestseller by observing two core principles:
First, it's slightly cheaper; and secondly it has the words DON'T PANIC printed in large friendly letters on its cover.
We leave it to Google to decide which of the two will prove more important. ®