Google gets ag­gres­sive with phones, other gad­gets

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - BUSINESS - By Bran­don Bai­ley AP Tech­nol­ogy Writer

SAN FRAN­CISCO » Google launched an ag­gres­sive chal­lenge to con­sumer elec­tron­ics giants like Ap­ple and Sam­sung on Tues­day, in­tro­duc­ing a new line of smart­phones called Pixel and other gad­gets de­signed to show­case a dig­i­tal helper the com­pany calls “Google As­sis­tant.”

The new de­vices rep­re­sent a big push by Google to make and sell its own hard­ware, in­stead of largely just sup­ply­ing soft­ware for other man­u­fac­tur­ers. At a start­ing price of roughly $650, the new Pixel phones are aimed at the same mar­kets as Ap­ple’s iPhone and Sam­sung’s Gal­axy flag­ship phones.

Gad­gets on pa­rade

Dur­ing a press event Tues­day, Google ex­ec­u­tives showed off a se­ries of gad­gets in rapid suc­ces­sion. Its new Home de­vice is a sleek in­ter­net-con­nected speaker that’s de­signed to re­spond to voice com­mands, like Ama­zon’s pop­u­lar Echo. A new vir­tual re­al­ity head­set called Day­dream View will work with the new Pixel phones and other de­vices based on Google’s An­droid soft­ware. The com­pany also un­veiled a new Wi-Fi router and an up­date to the com­pany’s Chrome­cast stream­ing me­dia de­vice.

In an­nounc­ing the new Pixel phones, Google ex­ec­u­tives touted fea­tures like a pow­er­ful cam­era, a long-last­ing bat­tery — and a ded­i­cated head­phone jack, which Ap­ple re­cently elim­i­nated from its lat­est iPhones. The Pixel phones will be sold in two screen sizes — 5 inches and 5.5 inches — and three col­ors: black, sil­ver and blue.

But they’re clearly hop­ing the new Pixel phones and other de-

vices will be dis­tin­guished by their use of Google’s soft­ware. A cen­tral el­e­ment of all the new gad­gets is the Google As­sis­tant, which uses ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence to de­liver what CEO Sun­dar Pichai de­scribed as “a per­sonal Google for each and ev­ery user.”

Pichai said the com­pany’s goal is to let cus­tomers in­ter­act “nat­u­rally and seam­lessly” with ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence through de­vices like the Home de­vice and their smart­phone.

Still, while Google showed its new As­sis­tant per­form­ing a va­ri­ety of im­pres­sive tasks, an­a­lyst Pa­trick

Moor­head of Moor In­sights & Strat­egy cau­tioned that sim­i­lar ser­vices, which in­clude Ap­ple’s Siri and Mi­crosoft’s Cor­tana, don’t al­ways live up to their early prom­ises.

On the other hand, Moor­head said in an email that Google was smart to em­pha­size the per­for­mance of the new smart­phone cam­eras, since “con­sumers care about this a lot.” But he said other fea­tures in the new phones didn’t seem that much dif­fer­ent from what Sam­sung and Ap­ple have of­fered in their lat­est de­vices.

Hard­ware, soft­ware: To­gether again

The prod­ucts an­nounced Tues­day also un­der­score

Google’s hope that its prod­ucts and ser­vices will work bet­ter if the com­pany de­signs its own hard­ware and soft­ware to­gether — some­thing Ap­ple has long done.

That’s also a model that Mi­crosoft has be­gun fol­low­ing, with its own brand of Sur­face tablets and lap­top com­put­ers that use Mi­crosoft’s Win­dows soft­ware. But an­a­lysts warned that Google runs the risk of alien­at­ing part­ners like Sam­sung, LG and other com­pa­nies that sell com­pet­ing An­droid gad­gets.

An­droid now pow­ers the ma­jor­ity of smart­phones sold around the world. But Sam­sung, the big­gest maker of An­droid phones, has in­creas­ingly been adding

more of its own soft­ware — even its own Sam­sung Pay mo­bile wal­let — on the phones it sells. An­other big ri­val, Ap­ple, has built its own ser­vices, such as on­line maps and its own Siri per­sonal as­sis­tant, to re­place Google’s apps on the iPhone.

Google, which is best known for its widely used in­ter­net search engine, makes most of its money from on­line soft­ware and dig­i­tal ads. But it’s putting more em­pha­sis on hard­ware as it com­petes for con­sumers’ at­ten­tion with other lead­ing tech firms.

In re­cent years, Google has sold smart­phones and tablets un­der the Nexus brand, which it launched in 2010 as a way to show off the best fea­tures of its

An­droid soft­ware. But it put rel­a­tively lit­tle ef­fort into pro­mot­ing those de­vices, which have mostly ended up in the hands of Google purists.

The new Pixel phones will be sold on­line, through re­tail chains like Best Buy and var­i­ous wire­less car­ri­ers around the world, al­though the com­pany said it has an ex­clu­sive deal with Ver­i­zon in the United States.

Home, but not alone

Like the Pixel phones, the Home de­vice uses the dig­i­tal Google As­sis­tant ser­vice, a voice-ac­ti­vated per­sonal but­ler that can search the in­ter­net, play mu­sic or per­form other use­ful tasks. Google As­sis­tant is the com­pany’s an­swer to sim­i­lar

concierge ser­vices from ri­vals, in­clud­ing Siri, Ama­zon’s Alexa and Mi­crosoft’s Cor­tana.

Google said the Home de­vice will sell for roughly $130 on­line and at elec­tron­ics re­tail­ers start­ing next month. Along with an­swer­ing ques­tions and play­ing mu­sic, the de­vice can be used to con­trol stream­ing video through Google’s Chrome­cast de­vice, at voice com­mand.

Home-based sys­tems like the Echo are tak­ing on more im­por­tance as voice tech­nol­ogy has im­proved, said an­a­lyst Julie Ask of For­rester Re­search. “You can’t as­sume some­body is go­ing to go sit down at a com­puter or pick up a phone and type in a ques­tion any­more,” she said.

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