From the moment Google’s big product event kicked off on Wednesday, it seemed as if every speaker was attempting to temper expectations and say, in not so many words: “We get it, you’ve seen this before. But this time... Google’s doing it.”
The most blatant example of a Google spokesperson teeing up this admission came from senior vice president of hardware Rick Osterloh. He reminded everyone in the room about Google’s history of gradually coming to dominate areas of the market in which it wasn’t first, but arguably became the best—areas like email, browsing, mobile OS, and even search. It’s kind of like how Apple was late to MP3 players and smartphones, or how Facebook wasn’t the first social network. And with that, we saw a series of products that grabbed features from all over the landscape and will (maybe) add a bunch of zeros to the Google bottom line someday.
Osterloh emphasized his sympathy for tech reviewers who have to write about the same minor updates between generations of phones as a prelude to the introduction of the Pixel 2—an ominous sign for a phone that looks good, but doesn’t offer anything particularly unique.
The Pixel line’s biggest selling point, so far, has been its well-regarded camera, and the latest editions, the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2XL, have again won praise from camera experts. But perhaps more importantly for users Google is adding the live photo and portrait modes that the iPhone has been rocking for a while now. And like HTC’s squeezable U smartphone, the new Pixels come with a pressure-sensitive frame. Neat!
And a year after Apple mimicked DSLRs with its portrait mode feature, Google has responded with effectively the same feature for its new phones; a portrait mode that stands out only because it doesn’t require two cameras to achieve the effect. Google isn’t the first company to use software to emulate a shallow depth of field, but when we tried out the Pixel 2 out ourselves, the results blew us away—when it worked.
You’ll also get 4K videos with the new Pixel, but the biggest rip off of the iPhone by far (and to a lesser extent, the Moto Z) is the exclusion of the headphone jack. You’ll now be in dongle hell just like Apple fans. Enjoy it.
Google Home Max
The Home Max is a blatant attempt by Google to challenge Apple’s HomePod with a design that effectively crams the Google Assistant into a Sonos Play:5 form factor. It features better sound quality than the standard Google Home and more importantly it adapts to its position in the room as well as the situation, like sudden ambient volume fluctuations—kind of like Sonos!
Google Pixel Buds
Google’s jumping into the Bluetooth earbuds game with Pixel Buds, its very own version of Apple’s AirPods. Like the AirPods, these are just wireless headphones that can call up a voice assistant with a tap on the side and automatically pair with a phone.
But we can cut Google some slack here for a few reasons. The Pixel Buds have a cord to keep them together, playing music and volume can be controlled through touch gestures, and Google Assistant is built in. (AirPods have an option to tap for Siri streamed from your phone, or tap to play/pause.) The most impressive feature demonstrated was an instant translation option that allegedly can translate a conversation you’re having in real-time with 40 different languages. It’s a nice idea, certainly, but let’s wait and see how that works out in the real world.
With Apple putting so much emphasis on augmented reality, Google had to invest extra time in promoting its own AR programming toolkit, ARCore, and the usual basic AR apps that let you see furniture in your room before you buy it.
Both companies appear to have been working on the concept for years, but Google’s dancing food stickers felt dangerously like Snapchat’s dancing hot dog—one of the only uplifting things Snap could share during its most recent earnings call with investors. Snap CEO Evan Spiegel’s wife, Miranda Kerr, hates when companies do shit like this. Sorry, Evan.
Google Clips is a small lifelogging camera, and maybe the most out-of-left-field announcement of the day. But there are tons of these things on the market, and nobody’s ever really figured out if this something that anyone wants. Google is betting that it can make people care by claiming its creepy little camera is better than the rest at choosing when to automatically snap a pic—and that it will just get better through machine learning over time.
If lifelogging is something you want to do, this might be just the nosey device for you. But there are definitely other options out there that won’t set you back $249. Or hey, you could just pull out your phone.
The stylus is not a new idea, but the Pixelbook, Google’s high-end Chromebook, has a high-end stylus that can be purchased separately, and it certainly looks a lot like Microsoft’s Surface Pen and Apple’s Pencil.
It’s big and offers 10ms of latency, 60 degrees of angular awareness, over 2,000 levels of pressure sensitivity, and it was co-designed by Wacom. It’ll cost you the same price as the $99 Apple Pencil, but unlike that stylus, it should be able to function on more than one piece of hardware. Google says you can use the Pixelbook Pen with any touchscreen if it’s running an app that includes the correct API.
Cayenne the Pig
At Google’s Pixel event, Nest CTO Yoky Matsuoka showed off all the new features that Google’s smart home company is offering. And in one demonstration, she used her pet pig Cayenne in an example of how you can track your pig’s misdeeds by installing a Nest camera in your house. This was a blatant attempt to take attention away from Elon Musk’s pet snail, Gary. The move was made all the more baffling by the fact that Nest isn’t even directly competing with Musk. To which we must add a very important question: Gary, are you still okay?