Hardware is the new software – by Digitalis

Made by Google

Earlier this week, Google unveiled Pixel and Pixel XL – the first smartphones to carry Google’s branding and be marketed as ‘made by Google’. The tech giant previously dabbled in the smartphone hardware business with Nexus; however, whilst receiving highly positive reviews, Nexus devices never amounted to more than a sideshow.

Pixel, on the other hand, is aimed at no less than to rival Apple’s iconic iPhone. It is more than just a shiny new Android phone: it’s been built and designed to specifically target iPhone users (it even comes with a data import tool available for the first time to help switchers). Whilst some commentators have poked fun at Google for copying its rivals, others have seen this as a positive: “It’s almost as if Google wrote down the top 10 reasons why people stick with Apple’s product and didn’t stop until they’d crossed each one out.”

Google actually went as far as to reference Apple on stage, taking a not-so-subtle dig at the rival’s limited capacity to store videos and photos, promising to include free unlimited storage as a special bonus for Pixel owners.

How can Google Assist you?

For Google, however, the most important feature of the phones is Google Assistant, which is described as a “conversational, contextually aware assistant that will help you through the day”. Ana Corrales, vice president of global operations and Google Store, said: “We’re leveraging 18 years of search and evolving it into an assistant powered by machine learning and artificial intelligence that we believe will be the next wave of computing for the next 10 years.”

Ben Thompson in Stratechery sees this as a fundamental strategy shift for Google – Assistant is a technology Google’s rivals currently can’t match but importantly it is also one which does not yet (or will not ever…?) have the potential to carry advertising.

At Home with Google

Assistant also features as the main selling point for other devices, including a new Amazon Echo-like speaker, Google Home. The company hopes its advanced search and artificial-intelligence capabilities will appeal to more consumers in the nascent market for smart home gadgets. Google is currently working with Uber, Netflix, Open Table, and Ticketmaster on voice commands for those services, but this partner functionality will turn up only after the Home speaker goes on sale.

We’ll be waiting patiently to see whether sales of Pixel and Home live up to the PR hype, and whether this really is the start of a brave new world of AI.

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