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Google unveils Pixel smartphone in hardware push

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - OCTOBER 04: Pichai Sundararajan, known as Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google Inc. speaks during an event to introduce Google Pixel phone and other Google products on October 4, 2016 in San Francisco, California. The Google Pixel is intended to challenge the Apple iPhone in the premium smartphone category. Ramin Talaie/Getty Images/AFP Ramin Talaie / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / AFP

SAN FRANCISCO, CA – OCTOBER 04: Pichai Sundararajan, known as Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google Inc. speaks during an event to introduce Google Pixel phone and other Google products on October 4, 2016 in San Francisco, California. The Google Pixel is intended to challenge the Apple iPhone in the premium smartphone category. Ramin Talaie/Getty Images/AFP<br />Ramin Talaie / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / AFP

Google on Tuesday launched its Pixel smartphone with built-in assistant as the tech giant made a direct challenge to the iPhone with its own branded, premium-priced handset.

The unveiling of Google’s in-house designed phone came as part of an expanded push into hardware by the US firm, which also revealed details of its new “home assistant,” virtual reality headset and Wi-Fi router.

The San Francisco event marked a shift in strategy for Google, which is leading a major push of its artificial intelligence software, Google Assistant, centered around its new smartphones and other devices.

“We are building hardware with the Google Assistant at its core,” said Rick Osterloh, head of a new hardware division at the California-based internet giant.

“We believe that the next big innovation is going to take place at the intersection of hardware and software, with AI at the center.”

Pixel smartphone will be available with a five-inch display or a 5.5 inch display, starting at $649 for US customers, at similar prices to the latest iPhone models. Pre-orders began on Tuesday in Australia, Canada, Germany, Britain, and the United States.

Google, by using its own name on handsets, is aiming for a bigger slice of a competitive smartphone market dominated by Samsung and Apple.

– ‘Google inside and out’ –
“It’s the first phone made by Google inside and out,” said Sabrina Ellis of the Pixel product management team.

By producing both the hardware and Android software, Google is making a more direct assault on Apple and its tightly controlled ecosystem.

Along with being the first smartphone to ship with Google Assistant, it will come with unlimited storage for photos and videos and be compatible with the company’s new Daydream virtual reality platform.

Pixel has a “smart” camera which can select the best images from a stream, and a program to make it easy for users to switch operating systems, a move aimed at winning over iPhone users.

But Patrick Moorhead of Moor Insights & Strategy said it may be challenging for Google to gain significant market share.

“Aside from the camera, the new Google Pixels are pretty undifferentiated compared to Samsung and iPhone 7th generation phones,” Moorhead said. “They don’t exactly swing anyone around the room.”

Google announced an exclusive deal with US telecom provider Verizon for Pixel sales and said it would also be available through carriers in other countries.

Versions for sale at Google’s online shop are “unlocked” to work with various carriers.

As part of its expanded hardware push, Google also showed off a new Daydream View headset that compatible smartphones can be slipped into to serve as screens for virtual reality experiences.

View headsets are made of soft cloth, purportedly inspired by casual clothes. Daydream View bundled with a controller device will be available in November, priced at $79.

Google added to the coming hardware line-up with a modular Wi-Fi system that lets a set of inter-connected mini-modems be spread around homes to make signals strong in all spots.

“Unlike a single, central router, multiple Google Wi-Fi points do a better job of delivering connectivity to all parts of the home,” said Google executive Mario Queiroz.

The internet giant also introduced its Google Home virtual assistant that will be a direct challenge to popular Amazon Echo devices.

Google described Home as a voice-activated cyber assistant that lets people tap into the company’s online capabilities to answer questions, manage tasks, control devices in homes, stream videos and more.

Google Home was priced at $129, with pre-orders starting in the United States on Tuesday. Google Home will begin shipping and be available in retail shops on November 4.


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