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Google bids for AI leadership with new Pixel 2 smartphone

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Internet giant Google’s big gadget unveil is all about positioning itself for the artificial intelligence era, not becoming an iPhone killer.

The flagship product is the Pixel 2 – a product so important for Google that it blew a billion bucks on beefing up its R&D team. As a premium smartphone the specs seem to measure up, with the camera apparently of the highest standard. But top components have been table stakes in the smartphone game for some time; Google’s aim is not to go toe-to-toe with Apple and Samsung.

Google is investing in smartphones and other hardware such as smart speakers, laptops, etc partly to showcase what’s possible with the latest versions of Android (which was also the point of the Nexus series), but more importantly to invest in the installed base for its services.

The main point of Android was to create a platform for Google products and services – principally search, but also maps, Gmail, etc, against which further advertising could be sold. Google won the battle for the mobile internet but the new battleground is the voice-driven AI assistant. As Apple has shown with Siri, it’s not enough just to be first to market with this stuff, your AI platform needs to be ubiquitous if you want it to get mainstream traction. The frontrunner in this respect is Amazon and its Alexa platform and Google seems to be more concerned with that then making the next ‘iPhone killer’.

That won’t stop gadget commentators from constantly leaning on that cliché, of course, but there are signs that the penny is starting to drop. “Google has a mountain to climb if it wants to displace Apple’s iPhone. Even challenging Samsung, which has a trio of superb Android-powered flagship devices, will be tough,” said Ben Wood of CCS Insight.

“Although Google is promising that Pixel 2 will be available in more markets than the original Pixel devices it is will still only be offered in a handful of countries. This underlines Google’s limited ambitions at present with the Pixel being more about the “art of the possible” on Android phones rather than a serious threat to Apple.”

“When it comes to smart speakers there is now a bewildering variety of different devices for consumers to choose from including Apple, Amazon, Google, Sonos, Sony and more. Amazon’s first mover advantage with Alexa and Echo combined with aggressive pricing and an ever increasing range of “skills” (which recently passed the 25,000 milestone) means Google and others have a lot of catching up to do.”

Google_Lens_Demo_Landmark_GIF_01

One area Google seems to think it can compete well in is the underlying AI. Alexa does seem a bit limited in this respect – hence the defined ‘skills’ – so using its growing portfolio of in-house gadgets to promote its capabilities in that area would seem wise. Also Amazon utterly failed in the smartphone market, so Google can point to augmented reality as an extra string to its bow that Amazon lacks.

This isn’t the place to pore over the various bells and whistles claimed by the devices, we’ll leave it to the videos below to do that. But it’s clear from the products themselves and from Google’s supporting press tour that a cornerstone of Google’s forward strategy is bossing the AI era, which on the consumer side means getting people to use as many Google AI-driven products as possible.

 

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