Uh Oh, Looks Like Google's Hardware Team Might Be in Trouble

Illustration for article titled Uh Oh, Looks Like Google's Hardware Team Might Be in Trouble
Photo: Alex Cranz (Gizmodo)

Over the past few years, Google has been pushing deeper into the hardware business with products like the Pixelbook, Pixel Slate, multiple Google Homes, and of course, Pixel phones, with the latter getting a big boost thanks to Google’s $1.1 billion acquisition of tech and personnel from HTC last year.


But now, according to a source who spoke to Business Insider, plans for some upcoming Google hardware may be in jeopardy after “dozens” of employees from Google’s “Create” division have been asked to temporarily find new roles in other departments of the company.

The main target of Google’s hardware reorganization appears to be centered around the company’s laptop and tablet group, with BI’s source claiming that despite Google already having a “bunch of stuff in the works,” multiple products may get delayed or canceled due to “roadmap cutbacks” as part of the company’s plans to “pare down the portfolio.”

It seems the majority of employees subject to cutbacks are hardware engineers, product managers, and related support staff, and after being notified of these changes in the last two weeks, those “floating” workers have been looking for positions in Google’s smartphone department or one of Alphabet’s other hardware businesses like Nest.

However, with Google allegedly abstaining from outright laying off employees or eliminating their positions, Google seems to be erring on the side of caution while still giving itself the chance to re-up its investment in hardware at a later date.

For anyone who has been following Google’s hardware, this report probably doesn’t come as a surprise, because despite releasing ambitious devices like the Pixelbook and Pixel C, there’s always been a major issue or two holding those gadgets back from mainstream appeal.


With the Pixel C, Google attempted to re-imagine what a portable 2-in-1 could be by designing a detachable tablet that connected to its keyboard dock via a tilting, magnetic flap that functioned sort of like a reverse kickstand. But with the Pixel C limited to running stock Android instead of Chrome OS like you get on more modern Google-based convertibles, and equipped with a buggy and often uncomfortable keyboard, the Pixel C was ill-prepared at the time to go up against competing products like the Surface 3.

Following the Pixel C came the Pixelbook, which was widely regarded as one of the best, most luxurious Chromebooks ever made. However, with a starting price of $1,000 (that hasn’t dropped since the Pixelbook was released in the fall of 2017), and just 128GB of base storage, the PixelBook often felt short on value compared to competing Windows-based laptops (though it goes on sale often and is a deal at $800 or less).


And then there was the Pixel Slate, which seemed like a welcome alternative to the Apple’s vanilla iPad. However, shortly after launch, numerous users reported issues with the Pixel Slate’s performance, particularly when using the device in laptop mode, which forced Google to address the lag later via software updates.

That said, while Google appears to be slowing down its hardware release plans, it doesn’t seem to be giving up on making gadgets altogether. And if this change means we get fewer devices overall in exchange for a greater number of high-quality gadgets, that’s probably a good thing.


[Business Insider]

Senior reporter at Gizmodo, formerly Tom's Guide and Laptop Mag. Was an archery instructor and a penguin trainer before that.



I was thinking about this as I bought a Galaxy S10 after years of owning Pixel and Nexus devices: Apple and Samsung (and others like Honor and Huawei) have really raised the stakes for what “good” phone hardware is like - and I’m not sure that Google has the scale or ambition to really keep up.

A lot of reviews on the first Pixel phones said “they were rushed with the hardware but it’s decent enough... with more time for the next generation, we’ll really see what Google’s take is on hardware.” Two years later, their take on phones hasn’t changed: Follow trends but don’t lead.

Apple is able to spread the costs of a single design among tens (or hundreds, depending on model and how you count ‘S’ phones) of millions of phones, and Samsung’s not far off (plus makes a ton of the components in-house).  Google sells, what, a couple million Pixels a year?  I really am not sure that that’s enough to be a self-sustaining model if you want the phones to be category-leading.