The Mercury News
Google launches an array of artificial intelligence gadgets
Gadgets include Home Assistant, streaming device and VR headset
“Everything Google does, you can always track back to the way they make profits, which is advertising.” — Patrick Moorhead, analyst, Moor Insights & Strategy
Google on Tuesday took aim at Apple and Amazon, unveiling a new phone and a home-assistant device that highlight the company’s artificial intelligence software.
Observers said the software stole the much-hyped show.
“The software’s magical, and the hardware’s ‘Yeah, OK,’ ” said Forrester Research analyst Julie Ask.
Google officially launched the Pixel phone, the Google Home home-assistant device and other gadgets at an event in Ghirardelli Square in San Francisco.
The Pixel phone comes in two sizes and three color choices and has the artificial intelligence-powered virtual assistant, called Google Assistant, built in. Assistant’s capabilities include answering questions,
giving weather reports, controlling devices such as speakers, making reservations, setting alarms and sending messages, according to Google.
“We designed everything about Pixel from the industrial design to the user experience,” said Rick Osterloh, head of Google’s newly formed hardware division. “We’re building hardware with Google Assistant at its core so you can get things done without worrying about the underlying technology.”
Users can ask Assistant for help from a device’s home screen or in any app, said Brian Rakowski, Google’s head of software management for Pixel.
However, Ask said the software does simple things well but is four or five years away from performing complex tasks. Google’s “conversational interface” must improve, Ask said, to handle the “twenty-two hundred ways somebody can say, ‘I need a ride to the airport.’ ”
For now, Assistant will be largely drawing from Google apps and services such as Waze, Maps, Calendar and Search, but in the future it will need to cast a wider net, interacting with other companies’ apps and services, if it is to provide maximal utility for users, Ask said.
Regarding Pixel’s hardware, Rakowski said its 12.3-megapixel camera was rated by camera-testing firm DxOMark as the best ever for a smartphone. The camera is integrated with Google Photos, and Pixel owners get unlimited photo and video storage in the Google Cloud.
The Pixel represents an attempt to create a device that’s “trying to be more like the iPhone,” said Moor Insights & Strategy analyst Patrick Moorhead.
But Moorhead believes the Pixel’s camera technology falls short.
“They missed one of the key features in a premium phone, which is having dual cameras,” Moorhead said. “I’m really, really surprised that that wasn’t in there.”
The Pixel comes in two sizes: a 5-inch display, and a 51⁄2-inch version. It will run Google’s Nougat operating system.
The battery can charge quickly, said Sabrina Ellis, a Google product management director. “Pixel can get you up to seven hours of power with just 15 minutes
“We’re building hardware with Google Assistant at its core so you can get things done without worrying about the underlying technology.” — Rick Osterloh, Google hardware division
of charging,” Ellis said.
Google’s Daydream virtual-reality software comes built in. The firm unveiled its Daydream VR headset Tuesday. Google said it was working with Netflix, HBO and Hulu to bring their entire entertainment libraries into Daydream.
Starting Tuesday, the Pixel phones can be preordered through the Google Store, Verizon stores or Best Buy, and buyers will receive them by Oct. 20, when retail sales start. The Pixel’s price starts at $649.
The phone comes in “Quite Black,” “Very Silver,” and a limited edition “Really Blue.”
Forrester analyst Ask found the camera impressive, but said the only thing truly striking about the Pixel phone was Assistant. “At the end of the day, it’s another Android phone,” Ask said.
Also unveiled Tuesday was the Google Home virtual-assistance device that the firm announced in May at its developers conference. Home contains Assistant and is voice controlled.
Google has entered into partnerships with Samsung, Philips, and Nest so people can use Home to control home devices, and will continue to add partners, said Rishi Chandra, Google’s vice president of product management. “We want to make sure we support as many home devices as possible,” Chandra said.
Home can also answer questions, play music and TVs, and put photos up on the TV, Chandra said. Google has created “MyDay,” which lets users hear important daily information such as weather, traffic and their appointments, Chandra said.
Preorders for the $129 Home device start Tuesday in the Google Store, Best Buy, Walmart and Target, and it will ship and become available in retail stores Nov. 4, Chandra said.
For Amazon, which has sold some 4 million of its Echo home-assistance device, Google’s move poses a threat, Moorhead said.
“It will severely cramp Echo’s style,” Moorhead said.
Google’s power in artificial intelligence and speech recognition, combined with its vast database of information, almost guarantees Home will perform better than Echo, Moorhead said.
And the price is low enough to attract average consumers in addition to tech-hungry “early adopters,” Ask said.
“People will try it even if they’re not convinced of the value,” Ask said.
Although the event revolved around hardware products, it was largely about software and money, analysts said. The Google Assistant built into the new phones and home-assistance device will improve with the more personal information it has about a user and the more data it takes in from all users, as the software’s artificial intelligence learns about individuals and people and the world in general.
That information is precious to Google, and the Assistant and new devices extend the firm’s reach, Moorhead said.
“The more places that can gather information about what people are doing, the better you can create profiles and therefore the better you can advertise to people,” Moorhead said.
“The more (Google knows) about you the better their ad targeting will be and the more money they can charge for advertising. If you adopted all of these technologies we saw today there’s literally no place that you can go in your home, with the exception of your bathroom, where they wouldn’t be collecting data on you — unless you take your new Pixel phone into your bathroom.
“Everything Google does, you can always track back to the way they make profits, which is advertising.”