Google is moving into hardware, and it’s doing it big time.
The company which started as a search engine became a software colossal, with a majority of the world dependant on either its operating system (Android), email service (Gmail) and word processors (Google Docs).
Sure, they dabbled into hardware a couple times before, such as the Chromecast devices that turned any ordinary television into a Smart TV, capable of YouTube and Netflix playback, streaming Spotify and playing a handful of casual games.
Google also partnered with several smartphone manufacturers to produce the Nexus line, known to be the purest form of an Android phone in the market given that it sheds off all the bloatware normally associated with Android devices.
This time however, Google is no longer dabbling. This is the biggest statement they’re making in competing with fellow tech giant Apple, who has long developed its own software and hardware exclusively. The ability to control the entire user experience has allowed Apple to maximise the capabilities of both software and hardware.
Today, Google unveiled not just five devices, but an entire ecosystem of devices, interconnected to provide a seamless experience in our day-to-day lives. Being in total control of the user experience is a Google that we have not seen before, and is a clear sign that if no-one is taking on Apple, Google is going to take the responsibility into their own hands and show everyone how it’s done.
The first of these devices is the centrepiece of Google’s hardware armada. The Pixel and Pixel XL aren’t just a rebrand of the Nexus line. While manufacturing duties were undertaken by HTC, make no mistake: the Pixel smartphones are designed through and through by Google.
The Pixel takes a completely different approach from the Nexus, which was meant to be a point of reference for phone manufacturers to see what the Android system could do. The Pixel is Google undertaking responsibility to take on Apple and iOS at its own game.
Google’s obsession with Apple is apparent in the design of the Pixel phones, from the rounded edges, metal back-casing and antennae band. From a distance, even the most hardcore Apple and Android fanboys would struggle to distinguish between the two.
With the controversies surrounding Samsung’s Note 7, there’s a gaping hole in the market that left Apple uncontested with its iPhone 7 Plus. The pricing and specs of the Pixel XL bring parity back into the fray and may even give Apple a run for its money.
Besides the phones, Google also introduced a range of devices for the home, an area which Apple has been interested in since the upgrade to Apple TV 4 and the release of HomeKit, a centralised app for your home devices.
A WiFi router kit, a ‘smart speaker’, a VR headset and an upgraded Chromecast may seem like predictable and rather ‘meh-sounding’ devices from a tech giant, but these devices are more than meets the eye.
Google WiFi takes strong inspiration from Eero, which uses a network of three routers optimised using software to provide the best coverage for your home. It improves on the current model of using one router which doesn’t get to hard-to-reach places.
Google Home on the other hand is aimed at taking on another tech giant in the form of Amazon. The device is very much like the Amazon Echo and works as a ‘smart home assistant’, which is like an intelligent speaker system enhanced with Google new smart assistant features.
With Facebook, Sony and Samsung moving quickly into the VR space, Google unveiled its contender for the market with the Daydream View headset. It’s very similar to most of the VR headgears available in the market but with an added touch of specially selected fabric to keep it “soft and cozy”.
Lastly, Chromecast Ultra takes what we know and love from the Chromecast and makes it 4k-enabled. It also supports HDR and Dolby Vision. An Ethernet port in the power adaptor sums up the enhancements on the Ultra. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, and Google does enough to keep what made the current Chromecast great to make this a good buy for 4k television owners.
Time will tell
Unlike Apple however, Google has the awkward position of now being both competitor and partner to the hardware makers that use its Android platform. It took Microsoft decades before it made a flagship device in the Surface, which being a tablet, doesn’t necessarily compete largely with manufacturers that utilise its Windows system.
Google’s strategy has clearly shifted from being an industry enabler to one that will convert users at all cost. It’s need to develop devices, and ones that provide a holistic home experience is a sign of Google’s sheer focus to drive users onto its platform.
Time will tell if the move pays off for Google, but as consumers, the competition can only do good in driving innovation.