Google vies to make even smarter phones, speakers, cameras

Published 05.10.2017 20:23
Updated 05.10.2017 20:26
Google product executive Aparna Chennapragada speaks about the Pixel 2 phone during a launch event in San Francisco.
Google product executive Aparna Chennapragada speaks about the Pixel 2 phone during a launch event in San Francisco.

The tech giant unveiled newly designed versions of its Pixel smartphone, the highlight of a refreshed line of devices which are part of the tech giant's efforts to boost its presence against hardware rivals

Google's upgrades to its Pixel smartphones and other gadgets are its latest steps toward turning its digital services into your backup brain. The products the company unveiled on Wednesday are packed with artificial intelligence that Google has accumulated from those very same services. The company's widely used search engine, Gmail, maps, Chrome web browser and other services have yielded a fountain of data the company has used to smarten up its software and gadgets. Over the past year, Google has been transplanting that knowledge into its Pixel line of phones, internet-connected speakers and, as of Wednesday, a new type of laptop and a small, hands-free camera that automatically learns when to snap pictures or record video of candid moments.

Google recently signaled a long-term commitment to its own phones by spending $1.1 billion to bring on board 2,000 HTC engineers specializing in mobile devices - and to acquire some related technology, too. Although sleekly designed, Google's Pixel phones and Home speakers aren't breakthroughs in themselves. In many respects, Google is simply copying or offering slight variations on devices made by Apple and Amazon that have been bigger hits so far. But Google believes its services, particularly those driven by AI, can give it an edge over its rivals. If its devices catch on, they'll then generate additional data that Google can use to further refine its AI systems. Already part of Google's smartphones and speakers, the assistant will soon also be featured in the new Pixelbook laptop and in new wireless headphones called Pixel Buds. It will be easier to summon in the next generation of Pixel phones; a new feature lets you squeeze the side of the device to ask a question. Google's emphasis on its assistant is part of a battle with Apple's Siri and Amazon's Alexa to prove which is the most intelligent and efficient aide - one that might, one day, become a trusted companion.

The second generation of Google's Pixel phones unveiled Wednesday feature larger, brighter screens that take up more of the device's front, changes that Apple is also making with its iPhone X scheduled to be released next month. Google is using AI software that adjusts photos automatically to enhance close-ups and blur backgrounds.

The smaller Pixel will sell for almost $650, $50 less than the iPhone 8. The Pixel XL will sell for almost $850, or $50 more than the iPhone 8 Plus. Prices for the iPhone X, by comparison, start at $1,000.

Google also announced wireless headphones, called Pixel Buds. In addition to relaying audio from the phone, the headphones can also translate spoken language in real time, working with translation software built into the new Pixels. The feature also will be coming to last year's Pixel models in an update. The Google Home Mini unveiled Wednesday is a button-sized speaker covered in fabric. It includes the same features featured in a cylindrical speaker that Google rolled out last year in response to Amazon's Echo . The Mini will cost almost $50. In a surprise move, Google is introducing a hands-free camera that will automatically take photos and video for people looking to catch candid moments of their family, friends and pet. The small, square device, called Google Clips, can capture images of everything within its range of view. It will rely on AI to decide what and who is important to its users so it knows the best times to snap a photo or record video. Clips will sell for almost $250 and will be available in stores in December.

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