At the event where Google unveiled two new Pixel phones, showcased a Pixel smartwatch, and hinted at next year’s Pixel tablet, one element was noticeably missing.
Throughout the event, we weren’t obligated to agree with the direction of Google’s other hardware partners (Samsung, Motorolas, and OnePluses, who power much of the Android ecosystem). Their names didn’t come up and most of Google’s presentation covered features not available on their phones.
Admittedly, the purpose of the event was for Google to showcase its own hardware, not to promote Android as a whole. Still, the keynote highlighted how Google is now replacing Android and building its own ecosystem independent of third-party device makers. After years of providing platforms for other companies’ hardware, Google is ready to go it alone.
new chips, new skills
For the new Pixel 7 and Pixel 7 Pro, Google cites its proprietary Tensor G2 processor as a key differentiator, enabling features that other Android phones (and sometimes iPhones) lack.
For example, both phones employ some tricks to provide convincing digital zoom, creating a composite image from the two lenses when at a zoom level between the two lenses. . The Pixel 7 Pro, on the other hand, can digitally zoom up to 30X from a 5X optical lens. Partly by cropping the lens’ 48-megapixel image (something other phone makers are doing as well), partly by using AI to stabilize it. Eliminate viewfinder and noise.
The Pixel 7 is imbued with AI chops in many other ways. You can remove blur from existing photos (including those taken with other phones) and remove background noise from the person you are talking to on the phone. Google is sticking facial recognition even further, using only the Pixel 7’s front-facing camera instead of the radar sensor used in the Pixel 4. The system says you can’t be fooled easily with your headshot. This is a common pitfall with his other Android smartphones).
As Google says, these kinds of features are only possible thanks to the Tensor Chip, and can only be provided by building your own phone.
new fitness platform
Google’s ecosystem ambitions finally extend to smartwatches, too.
After working with Samsung to revamp its Wear OS platform, Google first told Samsung about the release of new Wear OS watches starting with last year’s Galaxy Watch 4. interface design.
The Pixel Watch is more in line with Google’s AI-driven vision. It uses the Google Assistant, has the same “Material You” design language as Pixel phones, and comes with many Google apps such as Maps, YouTube Music, and Google Pay.
More importantly, I use Fitbit as my default app for tracking steps, heart rate, exercise, and sleep. (Google completed its Fitbit acquisition last year.) Google had a separate service called Google Fit on previous Wear OS devices, but Fitbit’s platform will be a long-term successor to Apple’s health and wellbeing. You may feel well positioned to compete with fitness products.
As such, the outlook for other Wear OS watches like Skagen, Mobvoi and Tag Heuer is somewhat bleak. They are due to start getting Google’s improved software this year, but it’s unclear if they’ll get the same Fitbit integration. For Google, Fitbit’s service could be another way it plans to make its own hardware stand out.
A new vision for tablets
In addition to the newly launched phones and watches, Google also gave a quick look at the upcoming Pixel Tablet, which is due to launch next year. The tablet itself looks unremarkable, but it does have one neat trick. It can be magnetically attached to the speaker dock, effectively turning it into a smart display similar to the Nest Hub Max. It can display photos, play music, and act as a stationary smart home hub.
Tablets are part of an attempt to make up for past omissions. After years of doing little to improve the Android tablet experience, Google last year declared tablets to be “the future of computing.”
But the Pixel Tablet and its docking station also fit neatly into Google’s broader vision for ambient computing. The company recognizes a common problem with tablets, where people often leave them unused for days on end, and has turned them into an always-connected touchpoint with the rest of the Google ecosystem. I’m trying to fix it by changing it.
Towards the end of the event, Google tried to point out how all these elements fit together. For example, you can use a Pixel 7 to take a photo, a Pixel tablet to edit it, and a Pixel Watch to turn it into a watch face. You can also use your watch to broadcast that you’re on your way home via Google Assistant and have the message played on Nest speakers throughout your home. The implicit message is that Apple isn’t the only company that can combine hardware, software, and services.
Still, the Pixel lineup is far from complete. That tablet won’t launch until 2023, for example, and it’s unclear how heavy-duty computing fits in amidst rumors that Google has disbanded the team working on Pixel laptops. We also need to see how well the system integration works in practice. Google has a long history of hatching big ideas and failing to execute on them.
But at least Google has a clear vision of how far it wants to go in personal computing, and it could be where other hardware makers are no longer needed.
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