posted by Thom Holwerda on Tue 4th Oct 2016 20:23 UTC
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Google unveiled a whole slew of new hardware products today, most notably its Pixel phones. You already know all the specifications and how it looks, so I won't bore you with the specifications details. Two good points about the Pixel phones: they come with easy on-device access to 24/7 phone and chat support with real Google people (...but what if it doesn't boot?), and it has a supposedly really great camera with no bump.

The bad news about the Pixel? The pricing. Oh boy the pricing. The small Pixel costs a whopping €759, the bigger Pixel costs €869 (German pricing). That's absolutely crazytown, and I simply don't know if the Google brand has what it takes, hardware-wise, to go toe-to-toe with Samsung and Apple. More bad news: it's barely available anywhere. It's only available in the few markets where iOS is really strong (US, UK, Canada, Australia), and Germany, but nowhere else. Not in the rest of mainland Europe (an Android stronghold), not in Japan, not in China, not in South America (another Android stronghold).

As a Dutch person, this is especially grating because virtually all of these goods are shipped to Europe from the port of Rotterdam, where they lie in warehouses before being shipped off. But not to The Netherlands. Anyhow, I just find it perplexing that in 2016, product launches are still nation state-restricted.

Honestly though, I like the Pixel phones. I was a little apprehensive when looking at the leaks, but with the higher-quality announcements, product videos, and hands-on photos and videos coming out, it's starting to grow on me. I definitely would have liked a more outspoken design, but then I remember that the best modern smartphone I've ever had was my beloved, cherished Nexus 5 - not exactly a beacon of extravagance - which just feels great in the hand, mostly thanks to the excellent type of plastic used on the orange-red model I have, but also thanks to its unassuming, generic shape.

Maybe I don't know what I want. I deeply dislike the design of my pink iPhone 6S (except for the pink, of course, that's still awesome), but at the same time, it feels pretty great in the hand, so I can't really fault Apple or Google or Samsung sticking to the generic, default shape we've settled on. The same applies to my current phone - a Nexus 6P - which is a pretty 'safe' design, too.

Google also unveiled - again - Google Home, its Alexa competitor, and an updated version of ChromeCast, which can now stream 4K video. They also demonstrated the first Daydream VR headset, which uses a Google Pixel - or any other future Daydream-compatible Android phone - as its display. Tying all of these devices together is Google Assistant, a souped-up Google Now with a conversational interface. It's difficult to say how useful Google Assistant will be beyond the staged demos. Like the Pixel, these devices are only available to a very small group of people - the US, mostly - save for the new ChromeCast.

So, why is Google getting into the hardware game for real this time?

That's why today Google is unveiling an entire, interconnected hardware ecosystem: two phones, an intelligent speaker, a VR headset, a Wi-Fi router, and a media-streaming dongle. And the most important parts of that ecosystem - the Pixel phone and Google Home speaker - exist to be the ideal vessels for the Google Assistant. The rest of the products fill out Google's ecosystem, but are also enhanced by Google's cloud-based intelligence.

In making its own hardware, Google is pitting itself against Apple for the first time, Google phone vs. iPhone. Those are very high stakes, with very little margin for error. So it looks like Google decided to follow a simple dictum:

If you want something done right, you have to do it yourself.

I'd like to add something to that dictum: you have to make sure people can actually buy your stuff. Google has a lot of work to do on that one.


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