The launch of Made by Google was big, glitzy and packed to the gills... not just with people but also with the number of products being announced. Two Superphones (Pixel and Pixel XL), a Virtual Reality headset (Daydream), an Amazon Echo-style voice assistant speaker (Google Home) and an all-new Chromecast device (4K version). Exciting, right? Well...
Google and hardware devices have a truly poor history. Google Glass was a failure, the buyout of Motorola ended in shambles, Android One devices would win the award for worst executed idea and even some Nexus devices didn’t do as well as they should have. So let’s dial down that excitement a little and do a reality check for each device announced.
Pixel and pixel XL phones
Absolutely top-of-the-line specs (first phone with a Snapdragon 821 processor), spiffy optics and camera (in some tests it’s been declared as the best camera in a smartphone ever), superfast charging (15 minutes of charging will give you 7 hours), unlimited storage for photos and videos (in the cloud) and the most killer feature, the Google Voice Assistant. This is a context-aware assistant that can understand full conversations. You could ask for directions to a place and then also ask “how’s the traffic on the way” – it will know you mean the same destination.
So what’s the caveat here? Well, Google thought they’ve created a bomb of a phone and priced it at Samsung Note and Apple iPhone levels. Huge mistake. To play at that premium level, one needs to prove one’s worth and create a demand over time. The specs will be matched by lower-priced competitors almost immediately, leaving Google with a serious number of unsold Pixels on their hands!
I really like this product. It’s a small speaker with built-in microphones that are always listening. It can answer queries, play music and control smart home products like lighting and thermostats. They can also connect to Chromecast devices and give you the same control for your videos and movies. Just ask for a YouTube video or search for a movie by its cast and have it play immediately. You can even have a series of Google Home devices in your house and use them as a multi-room intelligent system.
However, the Amazon Echo does nearly all of this and is also a refined product as it’s already been out for a while. Still, the Home is one of Google’s better devices and I have great hopes for it.
Daydream VR headset
It’s made out of fabric, fits you like a glove with no hard plastic bits digging in, and comes with a remote control. This is the bigger and more sophisticated brother of the poor Google Cardboard and takes Virtual Reality to greener pastures. You’ll still have to insert a phone in it (which means you can’t use your phone at the point), continues to have some pixelation issues and will still be a middling experience.
Take a very successful product and upgrade it to 4K. That’s the new Chromecast for you. It still looks like an ice hockey puck and plugs into your TV – but now streams faster and in Ultra HD. Oh, and it costs twice as much as the previous generation.
That’s the Google avalanche of products, part of its strategy to dominate Smartphones, VR, Home and Content streaming. Those are the big four categories supposedly worth billions of dollars for the next two years. There’s serious innovation but overall, many missteps too. The Pixel phones at about half the price, the VR headset with a built-in non-pixelating screen, Home with Chromecast built-in and Chromecast Ultra at the same price as before – that would have been my strategy. But then I’m not Sundar Pichai! I am available for consultation though. You know where to get in touch with me, Larry and Sergey.
Rajiv Makhni is managing editor, Technology, NDTV, and the anchor of Gadget Guru, Cell Guru and Newsnet 3
From HT Brunch, October 16
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