Emerging Tech

AI Ripples Through Google’s New Product Lineup

Google on Wednesday launched a bevy of new products into its growing hardware and software ecosystem at its Made by Google event. Many of the new devices are infused with artificial intelligence capabilities.

“Since last year and since Google I/O, we’ve been working hard, continuing our shift from a mobile-first to an AI-first world,” Google CEO Sundar Pichai told the gathering. “We are rethinking all our core products and working hard to solve user problems by applying machine learning and AI.”

Home Improvement

Among the new entries are two new smart speakers that target both the mass market and the audiophile niche, and two next-generation upgrades to the company’s Pixel phone line.

The Google Home Mini is a US$49 smart speaker that is as small as a donut and enclosed by fabric, thus designed to fit comfortably in any room in a home.

The new Home Max, Google’s premium smart speaker, is designed to compete directly with the Apple HomePod and sophisticated devices from Sonos and Harman Kardon. It comes with 20 times more power than the original Google Home and Smart Sound technology that adjusts the sound based on its location in a room.

Focus on Cameras

Google announced its new Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL smartphones, touting their highest-ever smartphone camera ratings from independent camera expert DxOMark.

The camera takes motion photos — that is, it captures a few seconds of video around each still shot. It also features optical and electronic video stabilization for smoother videos.

With augmented reality stickers, Pixel users can add emojis and virtual characters to photos. Pixel 2 and XL users will get an exclusive preview of Google Lens, accessible through Google Assistant, which uses machine learning and computer vision to find landmarks, books, music and art.

The phones have a Snapdragon 835 processor and operate on Android 8.0 Oreo. The battery lasts all day and gains up to seven hours of life with only a 15-minute charge. The phones will receive monthly security updates and are water- and dust-resistant to an IP67 standard.

The Pixel 2 comes with a 5-inch cinematic OLED display and pricing starting at $549. The Pixel 2 XL has a 6-inch OLED 18:9 display that allows for immersive viewing. Its starting price is $769. Both devices are available for preorder at the Google Store and other outlets in the United States, Canada, Germany, Puerto Rico and the UK.

Real-Time Translation

Google also introduced its first set of wireless headphones, Pixel Buds, at Wednesday’s Made by Google event. The buds provide 24 hours of listening time on a charge and can translate language in real time using Google Assistant technology. They are available for preorder in the U.S., priced at $159.

Google also launched a new Daydream View headset with high-performance lenses. It comes in new fog, charcoal and coal colors and can be used with Pixel and other VR-ready mobile phones. Google announced that 250 apps and games are now available for Daydream, up from the 25 apps and games available last year.

Combo Device

Google also announced the Google Pixelbook — designed to combine the best features of a laptop, tablet and smartphone. The device is the company’s thinnest and lightest portable computer, at only 10.3mm thick (less than half an inch) and weighing 1.3 kilograms (just under 3 pounds).

The Pixelbook can function as a normal laptop with a foldable keyboard. In tablet mode, users can watch videos or view other content, read books or take notes. Tent mode makes it easy to follow a recipe in the kitchen.

It uses the Chrome OS with Intel i5 and i7 processors. It has 10 hours of battery life and 512 GB of storage. The compatible Google Pixelbook Pen uses machine learning for handwriting recognition.

The Pixelbook is the first laptop with built-in Google Assistant. It allows users to download apps that normally can be used only on a smartphone or tablet. It is available for preorder in three configurations starting at $999, with the pen sold separately for $99.

Assistant Everywhere

Google’s chief message at the event appeared to be that Google Assistant — widely regarded as the best artificial intelligence and machine learning technology in the space — will be available to users everywhere, whether at home or on the go.

“I think what they are really trying to say is that people have really easy access,” Mark Beccue, principal analyst at Tractica, told TechNewsWorld. “How many touchpoints can I have to make it easy to access Google Assistant?”

Some critics have criticized Google’s price points for the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL, suggesting the company is leaving money on the table, noted Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT.

However, Google is much more interested in making its ecosystem available on a broader range of devices than Apple and Samsung can offer, he told TechNewsWorld.

“Overall, the key message for all their hardware products is Google Assistant — and that’s another differentiator for Google,” said Jitesh Ubrani, senior research analyst at IDC.

“While Apple does a great job at providing a consistent experience across their devices, Google is focused on providing a custom experience,” he told TechNewsWorld. “To me, that has more stickiness.”

David Jones is a freelance writer based in Essex County, New Jersey. He has written for Reuters, Bloomberg, Crain's New York Business and The New York Times.

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