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Pixel 6 software may be the way Google beats Samsung Galaxy fans

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Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro

Andrew Hoyle / CNET

The Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro are highly regarded for their excellent cameras, affordability and sharp design, making them the first Google smartphones that could truly rival Apple and Samsung devices. But for me, none of these qualities make the Pixel 6 so interesting. Instead, it’s how Google is trying to advance the basic smartphone experience with new software features that make its new device stand out.

Google had a hard time challenging Samsung-no. One smartphone vendor in the world-since the first Pixel was launched in 2016. However, Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro have features that make it easy to perform simple tasks such as calling a customer service number or clearing an alarm. Do it on a daily basis without thinking too much. These features still require some work before they can actually be useful, but they feel like a promising step forward.

This type of edge could be important to the future of the Pixel when many new smartphones, such as slightly better cameras and refreshed processors, have only introduced incremental upgrades in recent years. Google’s dominance in software is also important, as hardware advances are only useful when combined with convenient software features that take advantage of Samsung’s traditionally lagging areas.

New in Pixel 6 makes the Google Assistant work on your smartphone

Pixel 6 runs Android 12 and also has some special features.

Patrick Holland / CNET

Google’s Pixel has two new phone-centric features. One is the ability to automatically increase the expected waiting time before making a toll-free call, and the other is the ability to post an automatic menu when making a toll-free call.

Waiting time, as the name implies, indicates the estimated waiting time for the day and the rest of the week when you call the toll-free number. This is similar to how Google Maps displays the times when restaurants and subways are busiest. Direct My Call transcribes automatic menu options, so you don’t have to remember the number you punch when calling a bank or cable company.

Both features are currently exclusive to Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro. These follow other similar features that Google has launched in the past, such as Hold For Me, where the Google Assistant waits on your behalf and prompts you to notify you when a contact becomes available. .. It’s also based on Google’s previous work with Duplex, a technology that can do everything from booking reservations over the phone to filling out web forms for tasks such as car rental. You can also pause or cancel the alarm by voice simply by saying “snooze” or “stop” on the Pixel 6. This feature will soon be available for accepting or rejecting calls.

It goes without saying that the new additions to Pixel 6 are far from perfect. The wait time feature was inconsistent. This worked when dialing numbers to schedule Verizon support and US State Department passport service bookings. But that wasn’t the case when I tried to call the FedEx toll-free support number. In addition to tapping the phone number from Google search results and call history, you also need to manually dial the phone number to check the waiting time. Direct My Call also struggled when Verizon’s automated operators started speaking in Spanish.

Still, these updates suggest that Google has plans to improve today’s smartphones. It’s more than just taking better pictures, updating designs, and adding faster processors. In addition to responding to voice commands and displaying app suggestions, it also shows what Google thinks about having a virtual assistant for your smartphone.

Samsung’s Bixby Virtual Assistant is not catching up with Google and other James Martin / CNET

If you’ve followed the trajectory of Samsung smartphones in recent years, it may sound familiar. Samsung also had the vision of using virtual assistants to make mobile phones feel more convenient. It’s the digital helper Bixby.

Formerly Samsung’s head of software and services research and development, Injong Rhee called Bixby “a new intelligent interface on the device” when he announced his personal assistant in 2017. Samsung wanted to differentiate Bixby by emphasizing features that help it navigate apps and menus. With your voice to make your mobile device easier to use. Rivals like Amazon’s Alexa focused on integrating with traditional voice commands, smart home controls, and third-party apps.

However, Samsung struggled to make Bixby a success. This is because the virtual helper launches much later than the Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant. I also struggled to convince app developers to adopt a voice platform. Samsung also provided phones like the Galaxy S8 (the first phone to support Bixby) with a dedicated hardware button to trigger the voice assistant. It has caused a lot of accidental press and has frustrated some users as it gave Bixby a less than ideal first impression on consumers.

Samsung has improved Bixby by simplifying its appearance and adding customized voice command suggestions. And it also removed that annoying button. But especially when it comes to using smartphones, it’s far behind Google, Amazon, and Apple’s voice assistants. According to a Voicebot.ai survey measuring smartphone virtual assistant usage from 2018 to 2020, Apple’s Siri was the most frequently used mobile digital assistant, accounting for 45.1% of the market in 2020. .. The Google Assistant was second with 29.9%, and Amazon was second. Alexa claimed third with 18.3%, and Samsung’s Bixby accounted for only 6.7%.

Samsung phones have always been about hardware, not software

The Galaxy S21 Ultra (right) is equipped with a 4-lens camera.

Sarah Tew / CNET

Samsung smartphones have always stood out in hardware, but software has traditionally been a weakness. Thanks to Samsung’s smartphone’s vibrant screen and sharp camera, the company’s Galaxy line has made a name for itself. Samsung has also popularized large-screen mobile phones in the United States through the Galaxy Note family. This is an immediate move by Apple and other phone makers. Today, Samsung is one of the first companies to enter the mobile device with a foldable display that can act as both a phone and a tablet.

Still, early Galaxy phone models such as the Galaxy S4 and Galaxy S5 were criticized for having too much software and too many settings, features, and interface options. Samsung has come a long way in this regard. We are now deploying software that is cleaner, more streamlined, and generally easier to navigate.

Samsung has improved its smartphone software, but it’s not driving the experience as much as Google. In addition to the recent Google Assistant phone function, Google smartphones are also famous for their software-based camera function.

For example, let’s take a look at the night view. This allows your Pixel smartphone to take better pictures in the dark. This feature relies on Google’s machine learning algorithms as well as the hardware. In short, Google was able to introduce this feature to older Pixel smartphones when it was launched in 2018. Critics praised this feature, and rivals such as Apple quickly followed suit. The Pixel 6 family has another nifty new feature called Magic Eraser that lets you get rid of photo bombers with a tap.

Google has a history of improving cameras and other apps by adding new features through regular software updates (sometimes called “feature drops”). The Pixel 6 and 6 Pro run on Google’s own Tensor chip, so we hope that the software on these smartphones will be upgraded significantly in the future. Google has a history of deploying new features on older devices and new phones at the same time, as it did with Night Sight in 2018, but Samsung’s update schedule can seem a bit more decentralized.

Samsung cameras, on the other hand, stand out more in hardware than in software. The Galaxy S21 Ultra delivers unprecedented zoom shots thanks to four camera lenses, two of which are telephoto lenses. (One has a 3x optical zoom and the other has a 10x optical zoom.)

Samsung’s next big smartphone software update, One UI 4, will be released at the end of the year for the Galaxy S21 device, which also seems to be more sophisticated than a big leap. Many of the new features focus on personalization and privacy, including more sophisticated widgets, the ability to set AR emojis as Samsung profile pictures, and more control over how location data is shared. In a way, the software feels like an effort to catch up with the iPhone, not an upgrade that competitors want to emulate.

This does not mean that all of Google’s ambitions have been successful. Pixel 4’s touchless gestures using Google’s radar technology weren’t well received by reviewers. The phone was finally panned for high prices. It’s also worth remembering that new features such as WaitTimes and Direct My Call mean that Google will gain more insight into phone activity as privacy concerns have surfaced in recent years. (According to Google, all voice-to-character conversions are processed on the device and voice is not shared with Google unless selected. Information that enhances WaitTimes is also based on call duration data that is not linked to identifiable users. It is.)

Google and Samsung have different visions for the future of smartphone Andrew Hoyle / CNET

Google’s Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro are promising options for Android device owners, but when it comes to selling, there’s still a long way to go to catch up with Samsung and other rivals. According to Gartner and Counterpoint Research, Samsung is the world’s top smartphone maker in terms of shipments, followed by Chinese tech giants Xiaomi and Apple. Google isn’t even in the top five rankings, instead it’s grouped into a broader “other” category.

It’s unclear if a new trick like having a virtual assistant who can wait for you is enough to change that. Google has struggled to sell the Pixel in the past, and few companies have been able to challenge Samsung and Apple’s dominance. Ask LG and HTC.

But what has become clear is Google’s vision of moving smartphones forward and how it differs from Samsung’s vision. Google aims to use the power of virtual assistants and artificial intelligence to enhance new features that make using core apps such as phones, cameras, and alarms more convenient. Meanwhile, Samsung is even more obsessed with the hardware, as it has been proven with the four-lens Galaxy S21 Ultra and the flexible Galaxy Z Fold 3 and Galaxy Z Flip 3.

In the ideal world, there is the perfect combination of hardware and software. After all, coming up with new features that are positive and useful, not just gimmicks, is the only way to focus on hardware progress. Google has a seemingly clever way to put it into practice through the Google Assistant and other software features, even if those features still need some improvement. Now that’s your move, Samsung.

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