Is Google's New Hardware Too Smart For Its Own Good?

If you Google “Google new products,” the first thing that comes up is an ad for the Google Store. Fitting, because advertising is still far-and-away how Alphabet Inc. makes its billions. But its hardware products are beginning to have a real life — and mind — of their own.

CEO Sundar Pichai and cohorts yesterday took to the stage at San Francisco’s SFJAZZ Center to unveil a new lineup of products. “Throughout the event, Google touted the devices’ smarts as a main selling point, versus their hardware upgrades,” Jack Nicas reports for the Wall Street Journal.

“To be honest, it’s going to be tougher and tougher for people to develop new exciting products each year because that is no longer the timetable for big leaps forward in hardware alone. And that is why we’re taking a very different approach,” Google hardware chief Rick Osterloh said at the event, Nicas reports. “The next big innovation will happen at the intersection of AI, software and hardware.”



Miguel Heft live-blogged the proceedings for Forbes. Besides showing off a “refresh [of] its premium Pixel line of phones,” Heft tells us “Google also announced new versions of Google Home, its smart speaker, including a low-cost model that could be priced below $50. Google also unveiled a new version of Daydream, its VR headset, as well as a new high-end (and very pricey) Chromebook.”

“Google packed a ton into its event, seemingly updating all of its products (or close) — phones, laptops, VR — as well as announcing a host of new ones. The phones also incorporate the latest version of Google's mobile operating system, Android Oreo, which was unveiled at Google I/O in May,” reports CNET’s Lori Grunin. She offers a bullet-point by bullet-point description of each product’s features, some of which are indeed so “smart” that headline writers are in a tizzy.

“Google dials up the creepy factor and targets families,” CNET tells us above a commentary by Chris Matyszczyk. “Google markets its Clips, a new, ever-so-cute portable camera, as perfect for pets and kids. A touch creepy, though?” asks the subhed. 

Similarly, “OK Google, Get Out of My Face,” grabs our attention and takes us to the MIT Technology Review. “Ubiquitous computing is starting to get (really) real and I’m kind of afraid of it,” Rachel Metz confides in the subhed.

What’s the cause of all the consternation?

“Google demonstrated how every hardware product had received an AI makeover. The Pixel smartphones come with an image-recognition app called Lens that can help users find information just by pointing a camera at a movie poster or an ad. The new ‘smart speaker’ uses artificial intelligence to adjust its sound for the layout of a room. And new wireless headphones allow for instant translation of different languages,” reports Daisuke Wakabayashi for the New York Times.

Sounds harmless enough, right? But take a closer look at that camera, for instance. Google Clips is different from what we're used to seeing — or rather, from what we’re used to the camera seeing. 

“There's no display. There’s a shutter button, but it's completely optional to use. Instead, it takes pictures for you, using machine learning to recognize and learn faces and look for interesting moments to record,” writes Dieter Bohn for The Verge.

“Do you want a camera in your home, deciding when is a good time to take a photo of you, or your child or spouse, possibly capturing first steps and birthdays, but also so much more? I have a one-year-old, and the idea immediately repelled me; I already feel guilty when I take time out of our regular routine to snap photos, but then, at least, I’m doing it intentionally,” writes Metz.

Indeed, says Bohn, “I don't know if parents — Google's target market — will want it.” But he also says “But I do know that it's the most fascinating camera I've used in a very long time.”

“Smartphones are our most used devices but Google and Apple both know the race is on to figure out what will come next,” writes Peter Marks for Australia’s “Google is strong where Apple is weak — in their robust cloud services and machine learning expertise — and it's clear they are focused on exploiting advantage to chip away at the powerful Apple ecosystem.”

We’ll no doubt get used to all this artificial intelligence and machine learning, like it or not on first exposure. Just like we’ll get used to wireless ear buds. Google’s Pixel 2, like the latest iPhones, lacks a headphone jack. But Pixel Buds are also capable of translating 40 different languages “straight into the ear in real-time,” New Zealand’s Newshub reports

Wonder if that includes New Zealandese?

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