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10 Thoughts: Google’s Pixel event

Daydreaming about Pixelated Assistants


Last night (by Indian standards), Google gathered a bunch of geeks in San Francisco and made a few announcements, the biggest of which was that they are releasing two new phones under the #MadeByGoogle moniker and thus, officially (and finally) eyeing a chunkier piece of the smartphone market pie. There were other announcements too (and one big announcement that was absent from the event) but the gist of the event was Google telling us that they are a hardware manufacturer now and that they are cool and that they really, really, really want us to choose their products over Apple’s (hey, we have the headphone jack on our phone and we don’t take the colors of our phones too seriously). I followed along as Sundar and his team took the stage (my first time following a Google event) and here’s what I thought.

Before I open the can of pixels that were Google’s new phones, let’s talk about the event in general and the other announcements (which I think were more interesting than the phones). With the Silicon Valley intro, Google joins Apple in the club of technology giants trying to humanize themselves. At least, Google’s intro was more in-line with the industry they operate in. It was less entertaining than Apple’s, though.

Things pretty much went downhill from there for the presentation, though. So many people tweeted that the event was boring and monotonous. All of Google’s speakers sounded like the AI that they are so gung-ho about these days. Next time, in addition to their phones, they should also try to emulate Apple’s presentation skills.

Let’s talk about the announcements now, shall we? The most interesting of the lot for me was Google Home. Since Alexa started making waves in the US, I’ve wanted to give an AI-powered speaker a whirl. Unfortunately, Alexa hasn’t made its way to India and from the look of it, neither will Google Home. Google Now Assistant works really well in India (much better than Siri) and Home will be the best product of its class here (even if Apple does release their Siri-powered speaker next year). It’s a shame that Google isn’t making the Home available in the country right now.

Another announcement that caught my attention way more than I thought it would is Google WiFi. A product, based on what they said and showed, rivalling Apple’s products in simplicity and intuitiveness. But, too costly, I think. A normal-sized home in India will need at least two of these and at $260 (INR 17k), they’ll be way unaffordable compared to the standard routers that you get in around INR 1k.

Makes sense that the Daydream VR headset is made of sweatpants’ material. I’m still not convinced about the whole VR thing, though. Maybe next year, when we have more use-cases and Apple releases their VR headset. More so than VR, the video-based gadget that I liked is the 4K Chromecast. It nicely rounds out Google’s audio and video streaming device-offerings. Kudos to them on its pricing too.

It is a real bummer that we didn’t hear anything about the rumored Android and Chrome OS hybrid, Andromeda. Even though Windows is struggling to achieve it, a one-OS-to-rule-them-all approach is a good one, according to me. The level of cohesiveness that that OS would bring is what I’m looking forward to. Let’s hope we hear about it sooner than later.

One last thing before I get to the Pixel phones. Google did announce that those phones will ship with Android 7.1 Nougat but didn’t highlight any new features. Does that mean that it is just 7.0 Nougat with a redesigned Google launcher?

The show-stoppers at the event were definitely the Pixel and Pixel XL. And though they don’t get any brownie points for design (the Google bottle they gave to the attendees had more innovation in its design than the Pixel phones), we finally have high-end phones (with every spec that you can expect from one) which will not make us bang our heads against the wall, waiting to receive software updates. Though they made a lot of fuss about them, I’m waiting to hear more about the Pixel’s camera and battery life (7 hours of use in 15 mins of charging does seem great, though) before forming a final opinion about the phones. On the software front, Google Assistant is getting more powerful by the day but right now, is just a rebranded version of Google Now and Now On Tap. Unlimited storage on Google Photos is very interesting but it is a feature that I see making its way to other devices, sooner or later.  The pricing (starting at INR 57k in India and $649 in the US), in a time when recommending someone to spend more than INR 25k ($375) for a great smartphone is becoming increasingly difficult, is on the higher side and seeing that Google doesn’t have the ‘premium’ tag associated with it yet, might be a tough sell to potential buyers.

Those color names, though. Funny. Quite black, really blue and very silver. Much doge, Google? The two-color scheme on the back looks a bit weird, though. It is like someone at Google realized that the Pixels looked eerily similar to iPhones and they needed something to differentiate them. Also, with Pixel, almost every smartphone manufacturer in the world has copied Apple’s design. Does that mean that the industry thinks that Apple’s design is that good? I find it too slippery!

But seriously, most of Google’s event last night was focussed on taking jabs at Apple. So much so, the marketing video for the Pixel phone looks like a satirical version of Apple’s 107-second recap video from their fall event (they seem to be positioning the Pixels against just iPhones. No mention of any other manufacturer). Trying hard much?

As I had mentioned previously, I was hoping to hear Google make a stronger case for the Pixel phones and how Google entering the smartphone wars as a manufacturer will change the game, talk about their vision of the future of AI and showcase their take on the future of mobile and desktop computing. I didn’t get much of any of those. That said, it was a good showing from Google with it announcing its entry to the hardware side of things and hopefully, we’ll see the Mountain View giant do well in this new innings.

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