Product DesignStrategy and Innovation

What’s the strategy behind Google’s new hardware?

Google announced a bunch of new hardware yesterday. Some of the new devices were expected (a.k.a. leaked), and others were a surprise.

What can the new gadgets tell us about Google’s strategy? divider 600

Pixel Bud

Hit the road, headphone jack. Google announced that their new phones won’t have the traditional 3.5mm headphone jack. Instead, for $159, you can get their new wireless earbuds, called Pixel Buds.

When they made the announcement, there was an audible groan, or two, in the audience. And that’s an understandable reaction - a lot of us are fine with earbuds as they are now - tangle-prone but cheap. For Google, however, this is a necessary move - one Apple already made by going wireless with the iPhone 7. Google HW strategy - earbuds - 1 In short, this is all about you and Google Assistant (Google’s AI personal assistant) getting more quality time together. You can now access Assistant with a touch to your right earbud, and ask it to send a text, read off notifications, or even translate for you, without taking your phone out of your pocket. Going wireless enables a more subtle yet strategically important behavior: you’re more likely to keep those earbuds in even when you’re not actively using them.

Only time will tell, but our money is on seeing more people keeping their Pixel Buds and AirPods in their ears more often, which means they’ll use Assistant and Siri more. For Apple and Google, that’s gold. divider 600

The Google Home Mini and Google Home Max

Playing catch-up in the home assistant space. The original Google Home, you’ll recall, was Google’s response to Amazon’s Echo. And these two new gadgets are similar responses to other products already in the market.

The Google Home Mini costs $49 and is a response to Amazon’s Echo Dot. The Google Home Max costs a hefty $399 and is a response to Apple’s Homepod (and to Sonos, which just announced an Alexa-enabled speaker). Google new HW: google home mini and home max - 2 Are these products headed in the right direction? Absolutely. Are they enough? No. Amazon is already two steps ahead: they’ve got more devices with more form factors that make more sense in more parts of the home, and they’ve got screens. As we continually say, we’re heading into a multimodal world, where there’s no ‘right’ interface. Users will instead switch seamlessly from voice to gesture to screen as they look to complete their everyday tasks. Looking up movie times or setting an alarm clock will always be better on a device that has both voice and a screen than on a device that has only voice. So in terms of hardware, Google has some catching up to do. Google New HW - google home max - 3 BUT Google’s big bet is that they’ve got a big advantage on the AI front. Their CEO, Sundar Pichai, has been very clear that AI is Google’s core competitive advantage. If they can create hardware products that are up to par with Amazon’s and Apple’s, the theory goes, they’ll have an advantage because their Assistant is smarter than Alexa and Siri. divider 600

The Google Clips

The GoPro with opinions. Definitely the biggest surprise announcement was the $249 Google Clips - a camera you can….clip……to anything. It’s like a GoPro, right? Well, sort of, yes. But with one key difference - it takes pictures when it recognizes the opportunity to get a good one. Let that sink in.

The promise is that you capture more of the great moments in life without being ‘outside’ of them as the photographer (it does video, too). Google new HW - Google Clips - 4 This is a really intriguing example of a product that simply could not be launched by a company that didn’t have extremely deep expertise in AI. Will it take off? Time will tell, but if the Clip proves adept at capturing meaningful moments, it seems to us that people will start to feel sad about all the great photos they’re missing by NOT having one.

And what’s the strategy for Google? Do they expect to make billions off of selling these things? Doubtful. In all likelihood, they see this as a way to remove another barrier between your life and their services - in this case, Google Photos. “Not only do we offer free cloud storage for your photos,” Google might say, “but now you don’t even have to worry about taking the photos in the first place.” divider 600

Getting More Multimodal

In just the past few weeks we’ve had huge hardware announcements from Google, Amazon and Apple, and there’s no sign that things are going to slow down anytime soon. They’re all competing to figure out the right mix of hardware and AI to fit perfectly into your life and your home. And it’s becoming more and more clear that the solution is a multimodal mix of screens, voice assistants and wearables.

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