A Marketer's Lens On The Google Pixel Event

There has always been a clear line of demarcation between Google and Apple. The former is best known for mastery of software and all things algorithmic; the latter widely acknowledged as the last word in tangible user interfaces (i.e., hardware). In the past several years, however, each has shown a keen interest in encroaching on the other's hegemony.

Google has dabbled in hardware with a variety of devices from the humble Chromecast to the hyper-ambitious, well-before-its-time Glass and rumors have long circulated of a home-grown smartphone. Apple's ambitions have been more transparent, with the launch of Apple Pay, Apple Music, and iCloud and a clear statement from CEO Tim Cook in an early 2016 earnings call that his company is in the services business. The distinction between the two giants has clearly been blurring for some time and Google's October 4th Pixel event has all but erased it.

The Pixel event was ostensibly about hardware, primarily the long-awaited Pixel smartphone and the hardware itself is impressive. Look closer, however, and each functional device spec points to greater and further-reaching ambition.



  • The branding: The Pixel and Pixel Xl were designed in close collaboration with HTC and manufactured by HTC but carry no HTC branding whatsoever — make no mistake, unlike all previous Android handsets, these are 100% Google phones. The subtext? Google will establish complete control over both hardware and software, consolidating a previously fragmented Android, making it easier and more appealing for content owners to produce for the platform. Not to mention enabling Google to move faster and more efficiently as it rolls out new AI-driven services.

  • The distribution: Verizon is the official carrier, but you can buy the Pixel unlocked directly from Google and ready to use on the carrier of your choice or, (more interestingly) on Google's own Project Fi. Many will see this as preparation for a carrier-less mobile future, a self-fulfilling prophecy that Google itself will be instrumental in bringing to fruition.

  • The hardware: Both the Pixel and Pixel XL are powered by the new SnapDragon 821 processor and run a version of Android OS that has been specifically optimized to run Google's DayDream VR platform. What's more interesting, however, is the camera, with its 12.3-megapixel resolution, gyroscopic video stabilization and lightning-fast capture time.  So while it's clear that the Pixel is meant to be a vehicle for consumption of VR and 360 videos, it's also poised to be a powerful tool in the hands of consumers for creating the same kind of content, all of which is bound to live within YouTube or some other Google territory.

  • The software: The Pixel is the first Android device to be natively equipped with Google Assistant, the AI-driven on-board assistant that recently debuted with Google Allo. While Allo is still brand new, the initial reports indicate that the machine learning involved is far superior to anything that came before it, not just from Google but any company whatsoever.  So the initial expectations set by Google Now — i.e., that the data you give Google will net out in a more seamless and personalized everything and anything for you, from driving directions to shopping--looks like it will finally be a reality.

So while Google debuted other products like the $80 Daydream View headset, the Pixel was at the center of it all. With its compelling bundle of options, it is creating a whole new set of imperatives for brands. It will no longer be enough to have a mobile-optimized site and be Google AMP compliant; you'll need to think carefully about how to surface your content in a Google ecosystem heavily influenced by AI.

In the long-simmering mobile platform wars, the obvious questions remain, is it easier for a software company to become a hardware company or vice versa? We may have to wait for the WWDC in June to know for certain but odds are this will be a more well-matched competition than anyone could predict and a win-win for consumers with faster, better devices and services than ever before. Brands and marketers just need to try to keep up.

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