Artificial Intelligence

Google Debuts Devices To Blunt Amazon Alexa Threat

As is often the case with big hardware events by Big Tech, the Made by Google Event was both surprising and not.

Much of what was rolled out on a New York stage yesterday afternoon (Oct. 9) was anticipated and well-known long before the stage presentations began: the new Pixel phone was described as “exactly as leaked,” the new Chrome Tablet forecast did make an appearance, the new Google Home Hub designed to compete with Amazon Show was announced as anticipated.

That said, the software that powers these devices underscored Google's plans for growing its ecosystem of devices and services into becoming a more central role in consumers’ lives.

The New Home Hub

With the release of the Amazon Echo Show last year, and its redesign announced earlier this year, the long-running question has been when Google was going to offer its own screen-bearing competitor to take on the Show.

Google Home Hub is that answer, a product described as combining all the voice function of the Google Home smart speaker with all the convenience of a tablet screen interface.

“For life at home, we designed a smart display so you can hear and see the info you need, and manage your connected home from a single screen,” Google’s SVP of hardware Rick Osterloh noted of the new release.

Visually, the Hub looks quite a bit like the Echo Show — though some early reviews say that it lacks the aesthetic sleekness of the Show — or the more recently announced Facebook Portal device. The Google Home Hub will be slightly more colorful than it’s competition — with a speaker base in pink, white, grey, and green — but with a 7-inch screen, as opposed to the new Show’s 10-inch screen.

Diya Jolly, Google’s VP of Product Management, said its major goal with the Hub was to make a device that’s comfortable to use in the home. To that end, the Hub won’t have a camera (unlike both the Show and the Portal) and thus will not be able to make video calls. The screen will also automatically adjust to the light in the room.

The Hub, according to Jolly, is also designed to be used by multiple people and has the ability to differentiate between voices and offer personalized responses to questions.

It also offers Home View, a dashboard that shows information about all smart devices in the home, as well as offering room-specific controls — and a stronger integration with Nest devices, such as the smart doorbell and thermostat.

Customers can pre-order the new Home Hub and it will be available in stores on October 27.

The Phone That Makes Your Calls

Beating the new Home Hubs to the market slightly, however, is the newest version of its flagship Pixel phone.

More than the Pixel's bigger screen and upgraded cameraare the AI-powered advances that Google hopes will make the phone a more indispensable tool.  In a blog post, Google called the Pixel 3 the “most helpful device in your life,” pointing out that Assistant can answer while the phone is charging and the camera is designed so that it “won't miss a shot.”

“The Pixel 3 comes at the intersection of AI, software and hardware working together,” said Hardware SVP Rick Osterloh. “This approach is what makes Google’s hardware experience so unique, and it unlocks all kinds of helpful benefits.”

Particularly eye-catching among the Pixel’s new AI-enhanced capacities was the announcement that the Duplex AI feature will roll out to Pixel 3 owners next month. Duplex, among other things, will come with a call-screening and response feature that could be the end of spam calls as we know them.

Duplex can also make calls for its owner to do things like schedule appointments or navigate its way through phone queues.

To use Duplex, Google customers will be offered the option of a “Call Screen” button when their Pixel phone rings.

By tapping that button, Assistant will answer calls and explain to the caller that it is screening the calls on behalf of the receiver. It then prompts the caller to state their name and reason for calling. It will then transcribe whatever the caller says and send their owner a text message transcript with reply options like callback, ignore or even permanently block.

The new feature is slated to roll out “sometime next month” to Pixel 3 owners with a starting price that is $200 lower than its competitors.

Embracing Try Before You Buy

One of the more interesting announcements made at the Made By Google event yesterday wasn’t about hardware or software at all — but about a partnership Google has struck up with startup b8ta to create an interactive experience around its products.

b8ta stores are a bit different in that they are designed to be showrooming hubs where consumers can demo new tech products. Google devices will be live at seven of their store locations.  Each in-store demo experience is modeled after the different rooms of a home — living room, kitchen, home office and so on.

“We’re excited that Made by Google products are now available in the majority of b8talocations across the country,” Google Director of Retail Marketing Janell Fischer said in a statement. “We’re always looking to make it easier for customers to try and shop our products, and this is a great example of that coming to life.”

Google took a minority stake in b8ta earlier this year — and the announced partnership on stage this week marks one of many high-profile deals the firm has signed onto in 2018 alone. Macy’s and Lowes are also currently engaged in projects with the startup.




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