Google launched new mobile and home gadgets aimed at ensuring the voice-controlled Google Assistant is never out of shouting distance.
As it battles
Cortana for voice-computing supremacy, the
unit unveiled two new Pixel smartphones, a Chromebook that acts as both tablet and laptop, and a smart display designed for kitchens and bedrooms. All let you launch Google Assistant without using your hands.
The announcements came as Google faces pressure over how much access outside developers have to its users’ private data, including people’s Gmail messages and Google+ profile information. Google on Monday said it planned to clamp down on such access and effectively close the consumer functionality of Google+.
The company has also drawn criticism for testing a mobile search engine in China that adheres to the country’s censors. Google addressed privacy concerns only tangentially at the event.
“We need to offer simple, powerful ways to safeguard your devices,” said Rick Osterloh, Google’s vice president of hardware.
The company’s latest Android smartphones, the Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL, which will sell for $799 and $899, have an updated design and improvements to their already lauded cameras. The Pixel Slate hybrid Chromebook, a 12-inch tablet with keyboard dock, will compete with Apple’s iPad Pro and Microsoft’s Surface Pro. The Pixel Slate starts at $599—but the keyboard is sold separately for $199.
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During the same event in New York City, Google also announced the $149 Home Hub, a “smart display” similar to the Echo Show (as well as screens launched earlier this year by Google partners Lenovo and JBL). The Home Hub pairs a speaker with a large touch screen. It’s meant to facilitate control of smart-home devices and display on-screen recipes and videos, along with adapted versions of many Google services, such as Calendar and Photos.
Unlike the Echo Show or
newly introduced Portal, the Home Hub doesn’t have a camera. “We consciously did not put a camera on the Hub, so it was comfortable to use in private spaces in your home,” said Diya Jolly, Google’s vice president of product management for Home and Nest.
Google’s launch comes weeks after Amazon released its own Alexa-enabled gadgets. Alexa users can now talk to their car, their TV, their doorbell and even their microwave. Google is similarly racing to fully infiltrate consumers’ lives, making its products and services omnipresent as computing shifts away from phones and laptops and onto other connected devices.
After years of developing hardware with other companies, such as HTC, the company changed direction in 2016. Samsung, Google’s largest Android partner, continues to use the mobile operating system to build its own services, including its own Bixby voice assistant. So Google has looked to integrate its hardware and software in a more controllable way.
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Now three generations into its Pixel lineup, Google continues to expand its hardware ambitions with a focus on artificial intelligence. With the Pixel’s Photobooth and Top Shot modes, for instance, which help users automatically capture and select the best photos, Google aims to compete with Apple’s iPhone and Samsung’s Galaxy lineup.
Meanwhile, it hopes to use the Pixel Slate to bring its Chrome OS to more mainstream users looking for a versatile computer. “Users want flexibility” from their gadgets, said Kan Liu, Google’s senior director for Chrome OS product management. The Pixel Slate can go from work laptop to bedtime tablet, with the Google Assistant helping users get work done during the day and find a show to watch at night, he said.
In recent months, Google’s Home speakers have made significant gains on the Amazon Echo lineup, with research firm Strategy Analytics estimating Google’s speakers now account for 28% of the smart-speaker market. The same report said Amazon accounts for 41% of smart-speaker shipments. “I think [Google] is making a valiant effort,” said Werner Goertz, an analyst at research firm Gartner. “However they’re being outsmarted, and outperformed, by Amazon in particular.”
Google has had more trouble making its mark in the smartphone market. Its Android software commands an 85% share, according to research firm IDC, but Google itself sold just 3.9 million Pixel phones in 2017. While double the phones it sold in the previous year, Google isn’t close to catching up with its major competitors: Apple sold 41.3 million iPhones in the most recent quarter alone. For now, Mr. Woertz said, the Pixel is still mostly a showcase for Android technologies.
The Pixel 3 will be available unlocked, on Google’s Project Fi network and in Verizon stores starting Oct. 18. The Home Hub begins shipping Oct. 22, and the Pixel Slate is coming later this year.
Write to David Pierce at [email protected]
Source : WSJ