A Blog by Jonathan Low


Oct 12, 2017

Google Is Launching Amazing Hardware, But It's Still Playing Defense

If you're competing everywhere, can you win anywhere? JL

Amanda Zantal-Wiener reports in Medium:

For the most part Amazon, Apple, and Google are all casting similar bets on the types of hardware consumers want. The only question now is who can claim the biggest market share. While Amazon and Apple are still slicing off the parts of consumer tech that they want to own, Google is chasing it all. It’s not crazy to assume it will win on multiple fronts. AI and machine learning are the forefront of this next generation of technology, and Google has a notoriously deep bench of PhDs.
Last week was Google’s first #MadeByGoogle event: it was a large-scale unveiling of the latest generation of Google hardware products, ranging from phones to virtual reality (VR) headsets — really impressive stuff.
It also came on the heals of similar events from both Apple and Amazon. And while Google’s products are every bit as good as the competitions (in many cases better), Google is still playing defense.
Stage time was used to promote products that are easier to use, more competitively price, and not ruined by advanced leaks — these references were direct jabs at their competition.
I get it, casting shade is fun, and the audience often clearly enjoyed it. But at the same time, watching Google play defense in the feature wars only highlights just how similar the next generation of tech products really is.
For the most part Amazon, Apple, and Google are all casting similar bets on the types of hardware consumers want. The only question now is who can claim the biggest market share.

Everything Unveiled at the #MadeByGoogle Event

1. Pixel Buds (My Vote for Coolest Product Reveal)

Price: $159
Earbuds are far from the “most innovative” thing to premiere at events like these, especially since — unlike Apple’s— these aren’t completely wireless. But watch this live demo from yesterday’s event, and you’ll see what I mean:
Come on! How cool is that?!
And how helpful might it be in a time when businesses have a growing international presence and relationships?
The Pixel Buds — as with most of the devices debuted yesterday, which you’ll see below — also come equipped with Google Assistant, which can be activated by pressing the right earbud. And, like many of Assitant-ready devices, it can remind you about calendar items and let you know if you’ve received a new text message.
Sound familiar? That’s because these features are, in a way, drawn from both the Apple Watch and AirPods.

2. The Phones: Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL

Price: Pixel 2 — $649 | Pixel 2 XL — $849
Here’s where some of the shadiest remarks (to the delight of the audience, I might add) began to appear. During the product demo and explanations of the latest generation of Pixel phones, Google’s VP of Product Management casually uttered: “We don’t set aside better features for the larger device.” It was a jab, of course, at Apple, whose iPhone X comes with better features (and a higher price tag) than its smaller iPhone 8 and 8s.
But what sets the Pixel apart is its continuously impressive camera. It comes with portrait mode capabilities — which, yes, also apply to selfies — with a single lens. That contrasts from the “other guys,” like the latest Apple device cameras, which require two camera lenses to pull off the same photo quality.
But perhaps an even more significant feature of the latest Pixel generation is Google Lens: an AI-powered visual recognition system that recognizes objects like art, landmarks, and local businesses just by having the camera pointed at them. This technology had been alluded to earlier this year, and now, Pixel owners will be the first to preview it.
Source: Google
“But wait — there’s more!” as the saying goes. Those who buy a new Pixel model will be treated to a Google Home Mini, which I’ll get to next.

3. Google Home Mini and Max

Price: Mini — $49 | Max — $399
This portion of the event made it clear that Google has followed the recent trend of making in-home personal assistant technology a family affair. With more of these devices boasting the ability to recognize and maintain accounts for multiple users, at some point, there has to be a kid-friendly option. That was the inspiration behind a host of new features, like telling a bedtime story.
But it’s not all fun and games — with the new Broadcast feature, you can also push a daily morning reminder to devices placed in kids’ rooms, for example, that “it’s time to get ready for school.” (Anyone else really glad that wasn’t a thing when they were in school?)
The efforts to make features more seamless across various Assistant-equipped devices seem to be progressing. Many of these seem to fall under the category of helping users maintain a routine using the Made By Google family of tools — for example, one presenter spoke of a feature that allows users to remotely send a voice message via their phones that will then be broadcasted on Home devices. It’s a great way to let your family know that you’re on your way home with a pizza, or to freak them out.
What didn’t come as a surprise, but was still nice to see, was the Google Home and Assistant’s integration with Nest, a manufacturer of smart home and automation devices. Now, among other tricks, you can ask Assistant to display video from a security camera feed if you’ve been alerted that there’s movement in your home. The Nest CTO used the extremely lovable example of using this feature to find out that the movement near her front door was not an intruder, but rather, her pet pig.
Now, onto the hardware:
  • Mini: The Home Mini is essentially Google’s response to the Echo Dot. (The prices are just about equal, with the latter priced at $50.) There isn’t really much to say about its features, as I covered most of that with the Assistant recap above, but in my humble opinion: It’s a bit prettier than its Amazon competitor.
Google’s design team tested about 157 shades of gray before selecting the one that will go to market, along with two other color options. It’s covered with durable fabric, giving it a “homier” feel than Amazon’s Echo Dot
  • Max: It was only a matter of time before Google threw its hat into the compact home speaker ring. Enter Google Max: the first speaker powered by Smart Sound, an AI-powered learning system that helps users play and identify songs.
If you hum the tune of a song that you don’t know the name of, Smart Sound is designed to recognize — a feature that I’ll believe when I see (and hear) it for myself, despite DJ Diplo’s successful experience with it.

4. Pixelbook

Price: $999
A note on the price, while a bit higher than some might like, it is the same price that’s been assigned to the iPhone X. What seems different between the two, however, is that the Pixelbook is a bit of a hybrid of many of the products unveiled yesterday.
  • It’s equipped with Google Assistant, which is really its primary appeal.
  • It streamlines the Assistant features so that they can be seamlessly accessed from one’s laptop or tablet — however you wish to define it.
  • That’s also where the Pixelbook Pen comes in: a stylus device that allows users to draw on their devices, whether for note-taking or circling words and items that they want to look up. While it’s not exactly the first of its kind, it does happen to come with handwriting recognition. Like so much else that was demonstrated at the event, at its core is machine learning and AI — a reflection of one of CEO Sundar Pichai’s opening remarks: “In an AI-first world, I believe that computers should adapt to people in their everyday lives.” The Pixelbook Pen is priced at $99.

5. Daydream View

Price: $99
This portion of the event was a bit more lackluster than others. While the new Daydream View content library will come with more games and videos — including IMAX films — the focus here was really on the Pixel’s augmented reality (AR) features, and how, in some instances, they can be paired with the headset. Similar to some competing product reveals earlier this year, the AR technology can be used to test how furniture will look in home spaces, for example.
Plus, new AR experiences have been created in partnerships with media companies like Netflix, to help users bring characters from their favorite TV shows to life. And here’s a unique twist: Instead of the user just interacting and controlling with these characters, the technology is designed to allow the characters to interact with each other.
Source: Google

6. Clips

Price: $249
Here’s another moment of truth: This product is … bizarre. I’m not alone in that assessment:
It seems like no one is entirely sure what the Clips — essentially a square-shaped camera — is supposed to do, or what sets it apart from other devices in its category. Its main boasting point, according to the presentation, is that it allows users to capture moments while also experiencing them.
Here’s how I understand it:
  • It’s a camera, but it’s not on your phone, which means that it’ll capture moments like a baby’s first steps without you being preoccupied with trying to catch it on your mobile device.
  • You can place it on a surface where these moments can be recorded, but it conspicuously lights up so that those around it know that it’s currently capturing visuals.
So, what makes it different than, say, any other camera?
Machine learning!
It comes with machine learning capabilities and self-adjusts according to familiar faces and subjects that you capture the most often:
Source: Google

While Amazon and Apple are still slicing off the parts of consumer tech that they want to own, Google is chasing it all. And it’s not crazy to assume it will win on multiple fronts. AI and machine learning are the forefront of this next generation of technology, and Google has a notoriously deep bench of PhDs.
I’m looking forward to seeing how their more offensive plays develop…even if that means we miss out on the joy of watching Google cast some serious shade.


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