The latest batch of phones, laptops, and other devices shows a Google ready to define itself.
One of Google’s biggest liabilities, amongst a staggering flow of successes since its inception, is that it’s far too large, sprawling and decentralised to be focused. From the moment it started branching out from search to a full suite of web services, operating systems and communication applications, it has never truly solidified any of them. Sure, it’s gradually upgraded them iteratively, adding small tweaks and functions here and there, but the large bulk of them are unchanged since they were launched.
This is due to a number of factors – Google is loathe to put all its eggs in a single basket. It doesn’t want to be the best at email, or storage, or document creation - it wants to be functional. It wants to be able to sell you a Chromebook or Pixel and say – hey, here is a pretty good photo storage service, email service and web browser, you don’t need to go anywhere else for this stuff, and it all syncs and works wherever you go. It knows you have an iPhone or an iPad, probably, and want you to keep using these same systems regardless of the native options available.
Android followed a similar attitude in its earlier years – Google effectively offered it for free in return for ad revenue and acclimatisation to its Google Play ecosystem. But as the platform grew exponentially and Google’s name became attached to it, the numerous faults that grow from a loose and open operating system that relies on too many cooks (namely security holes, lack of mandated updates and version fragmentation) started to chip at Google’s reputation as a pillar of the tech community. Relying on other companies to represent its product offerings wasn’t working.
The Pixel was Google’s first attempt to reclaim Android as its flagship product – not only was this phone the first to get any updates, it was completely under the roof of Google. It could experiment with new features, ensure rapid updates and present the purest, bloat-free form of its hard work. Additionally, the Pixel was the debut of Google’s greatest asset – the decade-long project into perfecting its AI. The Google Assistant was easily the biggest part of the Pixel, and helped to reclaim Android as its own, smart, (smarter than anything Apple or Microsoft could offer) life assistant.
Its release, followed closely by Google Home, began the first step into consolidating its vast software platform with a cohesive, linked, set of hardware. Google Assistant could interface between your phone, home and Chromecast/Android TV – answering your questions, setting alarms and appointments, reading emails or playing your saved YouTube videos on your TV. The new suite of 2017 hardware was designed to extend and strengthen this connection after the original incursion – the Pixel Buds bring the assistant into your ears, offering real-time language translation and information without the need to touch your phone.
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The Google Home Mini slashes the cost of bringing a smart assistant into your home, and is low-cost enough to spread across the house, rather than a single unit in the living room. The advantage here is that by picking up your usage patterns throughout your home – where you play certain music as well as what you play, where and when you set voice alarms, or ask for recipe or cooking advice – Google’s Assistant grows ever smarter and able to anticipate your needs. Setting common alarms in advance based on your calendar for the next day, or reminding you to pick up milk from Coles after you let it know you’ve run out, is kinda cool.
You can see this push by the fact that, unlike Samsung or Apple, which tend to push VR or AR devices with their phones, Google is giving away a Google Home Mini with every Pixel 2, ensuring that this functionality will be in every home its phones are. This enables Google to introduce new services and features off a wide test bed – how will users utilise these new devices? What will they ask for?
The plus for Google is that while its main competitors – namely Apple (Siri) and Amazon (Alexa) are well and truly behind Google when it comes to machine learning and adaptability. Siri is still remarkably stupid, even on iOS11, and while her conversational abilities are much better than they have been in the past, they aren’t on the same par as Google’s. Using this as a differentiator was a smart, and a big, move – it makes the Pixel wholly on the front foot of the future, at least how Google imagines it, where we speak to our devices and they learn from our requests.