New Zealand is not among the first countries to get Google’s Pixel phones. The US, UK, Canada, Australia, Germany and India are all ahead of us in the queue.
Google says it plans to sell the phones in more countries, but offers no further details. There’s also no news about when the creepy Google Home speaker will come here.
The marketing says the phones are made by Google. That’s not true. HTC makes them. The company struggles to sell phones under its own name, so the contract will be a relief.
Priced like an Apple
Google is betting its brand carries as much weight with customers as Apple or Samsung. It asks Apple and Samsung-like prices.
In the US, the cheapest Pixel costs US$650. That’s the same as the cheapest Apple iPhone 7. Samsung prices are similar.
Google propaganda says it “obsessed over every detail, from the industry design to the user experience” of the Pixels.
The words sound like something Steve Jobs might have said.
The phones include a 12.3 mega-pixel camera. Google says its “photography gurus” spent a year optimising the camera. There’s also a quick-charge battery that can deliver 7 hours of use on a charge of 15 minutes.
That’s useful if you forget to charge overnight and need to get to work in a hurry.
Google’s latest foray into branded hardware follows earlier failures. Google Glass was a flop. The brief dalliance with Motorola was unhappy. Google bought Nest but failed to capitalise on it.
On the other hand, the earlier Google-branded Nexus phones are among the best Androids.
Not really about hardware
Most of the attention on the Pixel phone announcement centres on yet another Google move into hardware.
The company sees integrating phone hardware and software, in the way Apple does with the iPhone, gives it an edge over other phone makers.
This integration is an idea Google had been quick to dismiss in the past.
It may not have escaped your attention that those other phone makers are supposed to be Google’s partners. They are the companies who make Android phones.
Tension in the Android camp
To suggest this could be a source of tension between Google and the companies making Android phones is putting it mildly.
Relationships between Google and phone makers, especially Samsung, have never been entirely cordial. But this is a stab in the back.
When Microsoft first moved into hardware with the Surface Pro tablets it did not to tread on its partners’ toes. It made soothing noises about its strategy. Officially the Surface was only there to show them the way.
Even today Microsoft chooses not to compete head-on with the big PC maker’s main product lines.
How to win friends and influence them
In contrast Google seems content to trample on partners. One fear is that it wants to displace its Android partners in their relationships with mobile carriers. In Australia Google formed an exclusive relationship with Telstra – that’s moving right in on Samsung’s turf.
At the same time it seems to be undermining the Android value chain.
As you’d expect from Google, the Pixel phones are more about software than hardware.
Google Assistant, an artificial intelligence-based digital assistant, is preloaded on Pixel phones.
On one level Google Assistant is a direct competitor with Apple’s Siri. The phone software is, in effect, a client to back-end services provided by Google. It is a way of tieing the hardware more closely to the search giant.
Google Assistant also cuts rival phone makers out of an important part of the value chain. It links straight back to Google’s data centres. It leaves little room for other Android phone makers to enter the services market.
If phone makers lie awake at night worrying about Pixel, privacy advocates and, perhaps the rest of us, will lose sleep over Google’s surveillance.
The new Pixel phones are one part of a strategy to help Google collect more data and more intimate data than ever before.
At the same announcement the company took the wraps off Google Home. It is a home speaker with a built-in microphone. Home includes a voice-activated version of Google Assistant and can link to internet-of-things devices in your home.
Google Home is always listening. It is the ultimate surveillance devices prettied up as a domestic appliance. It would require a near impossible feat of willpower not to feed it with a constant steam of the most personal and intimate data.
When George Orwell wrote 1984 he never dreamed that Big Brother could get citizens to buy the listening devices spying on them. The idea of then earning billions by using it to learn their preferences and selling them more things was beyond belief.
The clever-sounding artificial intelligence Google talks of isn’t there to help you. It’s not to make life better, to ease your burdens. It exists to mine your most intimate data then sell it to retailers who can turn it into gold.
If that doesn’t worry you, nothing will.