Google unveils big new guns as it launches hardware attack on rivals

Google’s product launch was as much a jab at Apple’s iPhone as a sales pitch for its new Pixel phones, with executives from the Mountain View internet search company taking shots at their competitor at every turn. (Check out the full range of Google’s new products below).

But any gains Google makes with the new US$649 Pixel smartphone, billed as completely designed in-house, may come not at the expense of Apple, but phone manufacturers running its Android software, a list topped by Samsung Electronics.

“A premium Android strategy is really a strategy to take market share from Samsung,” said the analyst Jan Dawson of Jackdaw Research. The South Korean company already is reeling from a highly publicised recall of its Galaxy Note 7 phones due to battery fires.

“Obviously Google doesn’t want to explicitly compete with its own partners, but this product is much more likely to compete with Samsung than Apple,” Mr Dawson said.

Nevertheless, the Pixel line bears a strong resemblance to the iPhone, coming in two sizes and a variety of sleek finishes. And as Google prioritises making its own hardware under Osterloh, its emerging design philosophy echoes Apple’s.

Google’s hardware executive Mario Queiroz touted the company’s attention to packaging, a feature that the late Apple chief Steve Jobs famously obsessed over.

“You want the consumer first of all to have this great experience out of the box in terms of the design of the packaging,” said Mr Queiroz, a vice president of product management at Google.

With its newly unveiled products, Google is betting that it can design software and hardware to work seamlessly with each other. That is an art Apple mastered over the past 15 years as it turned out finely crafted iPods, iPhones, iPads and Macs.

Borrowing another page from Apple’s book, Google is backing its expanded product line-up with the biggest marketing campaign in its 18-year history. The company is not disclosing how much it will spend, but made it clear the ads touting products “Made by Google” will be ubiquitous during the next few months.

“They have done some advertising in the past, but it’s never been with this kind of ‘let us take care of everything for you’ way,” said the Gartner analyst Brian Blau. “This is more like Apple’s way of doing things.”

The phone

Available in two sizes, the Pixel phones replace Google’s previous foray into smartphones with a Nexus brand introduced six years ago. Google never hailed Nexus as its own phone, but instead positioned it as an example of how it believed the Android system worked best.

In promoting the Pixels, Google highlighted a camera it says trumps the latest iPhone and a long-lasting battery. And while past Google phones primarily relied on sales through Google’s online Play store, the Pixel will also be sold by Verizon in the United States. The phones come out October 20, with advance orders starting today.

The Analyst Patrick Moorhead of Moor Insights & Strategy said Google was clever to emphasise the performance of the new smartphone cameras, as “consumers care about this a lot”.

Taking a pop at Apple, the Google executive Rick Osterloh said: “There’s no unsightly camera bump,” to much laughter from the audience at the presentation, alluding to the iPhone’s raised camera, a feature lamented by some design aficionados.

The newly released ads for the Pixel phones land some other blows on the iPhone. A rundown of the phones’ new features concludes with “3.5mm headphone jack satisfyingly not new”, a reference to Apple’s decision to eliminate the port in the iPhone 7, which riled many customers.

Virtual reality

Daydream View is a headset and controller for viewing VR media with a smartphone. At $79, the price is well below products from HTC and Facebook’s Oculus, which cost hundreds of dollars.

The new headset will enable a broad range of VR experiences, such as gaming and movies. The controller could also help match some of the features of higher-end VR devices.

The launch coincides with the release of Daydream, software that Google hopes will replicate the far reach of its Android mobile operating system. By making its VR gadgets cheap, the company aims to get its system used by as many people as possible.

Still, the only phones that currently works with Daydream View are the Pixel, although more Android phones will be compatible with the viewer soon, according to the company

“The significance of Daydream is it should move the VR theme forward because it raises the hardware bar on phones needed for VR,” said Gene Munster, an analyst with Piper Jaffray. “In 3 to 5 years most Android hardware will be Daydream-enabled.”

The speaker

Google’s new Home speaker represents a counterpunch to Amazon’s Echo, a similar device that has become a big hit since its release about 15 months ago. Google Home will cost $129, undercutting Echo by $50. Home will be available on November 4 for $129, with advance orders starting Tuesday.

Smart assistant

The Google Assistant will respond to spoken questions such as “How do you remove coffee stains out of the carpet?” and commands to control the volume of the television and other home appliances with internet connections.

Assistant escalates the company’s battle against Apple, which offers a virtual helping hand through Siri, and Amazon, whose Alexa concierge resides in Echo and other devices.

Google believes its assistant will be more knowledgeable, more personable and more versatile than the competition. Its confidence stems from the more than 70 billion facts that it has stockpiled in a database that it calls a “knowledge graph”, as well as the ability of its dominant search engine to quickly scan the Web to retrieve a specific piece of information.

The Google chief executive Sundar Pichai boasts that the assistant will draw upon the company’s advances in artificial intelligence to deliver “a personal Google for each and every user”. The artificial intelligence programming is designed to learn more about the person using it with each interaction, according to Google.

That is one reason why Google eventually wants the assistant on more devices, though the company currently does not have plans to build directly into Android the way Siri is automatically included in Apple’s mobile software. Instead, Google will allow other device makers to include the assistant in their products if they want, beginning early next year.

“Search has been Google’s golden ticket for the past 20 years of the internet, and now they are hoping artificial intelligence will become the next golden ticket,” Mr Blau said.

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* Video courtesy CNBC


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