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Design Knowledge Intermediary
Google's New Gadgets Come With a Big Helping of A.I.
(06/Oct/2017)
Google’s unveiling of new smartphones, smart speakers and other gadgets had all the makings of a typical technology product launch: a fawning crowd of superfans, skeptical journalists, slick product videos, not-so-subtle jabs at the competition, and overly romanticized descriptions of design choices, colors and materials.
 
On Wednesday, Google did its best to demonstrate its commitment. It introduced two new Pixel smartphones, Google Home speakers both small and large, a laptop running the company’s Chrome software, a new virtual reality headset and wireless headphones.
 
But Google’s pitch for why its hardware is different had little to do with the hardware itself.
 
Unlike the way an Apple event is conducted — usually chock-full of talk about chip speeds and screen resolutions — Google didn’t spend much time on product specifications. Instead, its focus was on artificial intelligence. Sundar Pichai, Google’s chief executive, spent the first 10 minutes explaining how artificial intelligence was helping Google Maps and its translations.
 
Mr. Pichai said that as an “A.I. first” company, this is a “unique moment in time” for Google to combine hardware, software and artificial intelligence. “It’s radically rethinking how computing should work,” he said.
 
Google executives said it has been getting harder to find new hardware breakthroughs like bigger and better screens, but they believe significant improvements will come from artificial intelligence software that is developing at a faster clip than physical components.
 
Last year, the company started its “Made By Google” line of hardware products, headlined by the Pixel smartphone. The handset received positive reviews, but it did not threaten the premium smartphone dominance of Apple or Samsung.
 
On Wednesday, Google demonstrated how every hardware product had received an A.I. makeover. The Pixel smartphones come with an image-recognition app called Lens that can help users find information just by pointing a camera at a movie poster or an ad. The new “smart speaker” uses artificial intelligence to adjust its sound for the layout of a room. And new wireless headphones allow for instant translation of different languages.
 
The question of Google’s commitment to hardware is a testament to the challenges of competing against devices made by Apple, Amazon and Samsung. Most other companies have found it hard to turn a profit in that product fight, and a flop can follow a company around for years — both in money and reputation lost.