Technophile

Google’s Pixels get very personal

| Updated on: Oct 05, 2016
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BL06_TECH_ANCHOR.1

BL06_TECH_ANCHOR

BL06_TECH_ANCHOR

What happens when you put hardware, software and artificial intelligence together? You get your own virtual assistant

You have a new family member. And co-worker. And best friend. And helper. And alter ego. Her name is nothing in particular but you can call her ‘OK Google’. And she is coming to you in a set of phones that go by the name of Pixel, from where she will proceed to make her way to a world of devices. You already met her in Google Allo, the messenger app launched recently, but now she has gained a voice which earned her the right to jump into your phone.

A bevy of Google execs just launched a bevy of devices at an event in San Francisco and if there is one thing in common about them it is that they have Google’s virtual assistant at their core. This, as Sundar Pichai, CEO Google Inc said, is about hardware and software with artificial intelligence sandwiched in between.

The Pixel phones

Two Android Nougat phones made by HTC but really by Google mark the voice assistant’s debut into the world at large. The phones themselves look good, as Android devices do these days, and are in two sizes: 5 inches and 5.5 inches or the Pixel and Pixel XL. They have the same specs otherwise which includes different storage options and a camera being touted as stellar. They are to be available for order in India from October 13 on multiple online channels. But brace brace brace: they start at ₹57,000. You have to want that assistant very badly.

At this point you might want to ask why Google is making hardware at all, but this, the company says, is because things are getting so complex you have to figure out both hardware and software and their new equation to each other with the addition of artificial intelligence and machine learning, whose moment has undoubtedly come.

Just in case the assistant is not enough to lure you, the Pixel phones are coming with cameras that shoot with zero shutter lag, whizzing through image processing, and capturing images with HDR Plus and video. Unfortunately, it does not have actual optical image stabilisation. You will also get unlimited storage on Google Photos to store away your memories in original resolution. The devices are powerful and with their launch, Google is effectively stiff competition to its Android partners, chiefly Samsung. What is more, Google is going the whole hog with getting into relationships with carriers, distribution and so on.

Ready to Daydream

To go with the Pixel phones, but at an optional additional $79, a new headset Daydream View takes Google beyond its experimental Cardboard virtual reality toy. Designed with the blessings of fashion designers and those who know about what people like to wear, the headset has a lot of fabric and is designed to be comfortable and light, even housing a user's spectacles if need be. Like the other tech giants, Google is setting great store on virtual reality as a full fledged platform of the future and has already worked with content partners to bring entertainment, education and its own Street View to the headset. The Pixel phones are Daydream-ready, as are quite a few phones by other manufacturers.

Google comes home

Where the virtual assistant comes into her own is really in your home, with the family all around. Entering with three products. This includes a set of WiFi routers to which you can add more points improves throughput and intelligently switches you from one point to the other depending on where you are and what you are doing. A supporting app lets you control access manually if you choose, halting the kids’ Youtube binging long enough for them to get to the table for dinner.

Another home device is an Amazon Echo competitor, a speaker with the virtual assistant built in and a touch sensitive panel on top. With this device, you can go about your home life asking and ordering the virtual assistant around giving you whatever information you need and setting in progress several tasks and reminders. In other words, Google Assistant joins the family.

Not forgetting entertainment, Google is launching Chromecast Ultra, a 4K version of its content streaming device which will work with Netflix, YouTube and other providers.

Your personal Google

There is no news on if and when devices besides the Pixel phones will be available in India.

Ultimately, as everyone has been saying all along, all this hardware is really about software. But now, when the world has reached an inflexion point where technologies like AI and machine learning are concerned, it is also about turbo charging personalisation. Being better able to understand each person's individual context, Google will become seamlessly woven into everyday activities. In the process, the tech giant will have unprecedented information on every users, but that is a trade-off many will be willing to make. As Sundar Pichai puts it, each individual will have his or her own personal Google.

Published on January 16, 2018

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