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Google Formally Introduces The Hardware You've Been Reading About

Google yesterday unveiled a slew of new hardware at its Pixel 3 event in New York City -- smartphones with cameras that choose your best shot, a tablet that has a keyboard dock --  that was also notable for what one product does not include. The $149 Home Hub, a smart assistant that will compete with devices like Amazon’s Echo Show that turn off the lights but don’t yet put the kids to bed, lacks a camera.

“We consciously decided to not include a camera on Google Home Hub so you feel comfortable placing it in the private spaces of your home, like the bedroom,” said Diya Jolly, Google’s vice president of home product management. 

“The thought process makes sense. Ditching the camera means that Home Hub can go anywhere you want it to without you worrying about your ‘assistant’ catching you in your bloomers. Privacy concerns brought about by embedded cameras in similar devices can be sidestepped, and all users have to do to keep Google in the dark is hit the large mute switch on the rear of the Home Hub. No tiny piece of masking tape required,” observes Patrick Lucas Austin for Time.”

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That pronouncement comes on the heels of Google announcing that it would pull the plug on its Google+ social network after the Wall Street Journal’s Douglas MacMillan and Robert McMillan revealed Monday that a glitch had given outside developers potential access to private Google+ data for hundreds of thousands of users between 2015 and March 2018. It did not disclose the possible breach, however, for fear of riling regulators.

“Alongside the Hub, Google showed off a revamped Google Home app. Whereas before the Home app was purely for setting up Google’s various smart speakers, it's now a much broader smart home control center,” writes CNET’s Andrew Gebhart. The Home Hub screen and the app feature similar views: “quick-access buttons populate the top and you can scroll down for a room-by-room view of all of your devices.”

“The goal of the app was to create ‘the simplicity and the elegance that we've already built for voice where I can just think something and say something and have it happen,” Ben Brown, Google's senior product manager for apps and connectivity, said. “And we wanted to try to bring that to mobile.”

The Wall Street Journal’s David Pierce points out that “Google’s launch comes weeks after Amazon released its own Alexa-enabled gadgets. Alexa users can now talk to their car, their TV, their doorbell and even their microwave. Google is similarly racing to fully infiltrate consumers’ lives, making its products and services omnipresent as computing shifts away from phones and laptops and onto other connected devices.”

Not that phones and laptops aren’t important, too. But by the time the Pixel 3s took the stage yesterday, there wasn’t much to say about them that hasn’t already been said.

“With something like two-dozen different leaks and an entire lost box of devices that went up for sale on the black market, the Pixel 3 is probably the most-leaked smartphone of all time,” Ron Amadeo quips for Ars Technica.

“Google is still only using a single 12.2-megapixel camera lens on the back this year, but the Pixel line has never disappointed in the camera department. Google’s cameras have topped the competition for some time thanks to ‘computational photography’ -- an approach that aims to make up for the limited lens size of smartphone cameras with algorithms and computing power,” Amadeo writes. It’s called Top Shot. In addition, “another new feature called Super Res Zoom uses multiple photos and AI to create a crisper, higher-quality zoomed-in photo even without the use of optical zoom.”

Yes, the two new Pixel 3s still make phone calls. More important, they have an ability to “screen spam calls and provide real-time transcriptions,” Micah Singleton writes for The Verge

This signals, perhaps, the end of the Golden Age of Bot Telemarketing. “The new feature will allow Google Assistant to answer a suspected spam call and then transcribe the response in real time, letting users decide whether to answer the call, end it early, or block the number entirely and report it as spam.”

The $599-and-up Pixel Slate, meanwhile, provides “flexibility” with its ability to plug in a $199 keyboard, according to Kan Liu, Google’s senior director for Chrome OS product management. It “can go from work laptop to bedtime tablet, with the Google Assistant helping users get work done during the day and find a show to watch at night, he said,” reports the WSJ’s Pierce.

Google’s Osterloh lays out all of the new products in a blog post, with links providing prices, availability dates and more detailed product explanations. He also writes that as the company enters its third decade, “our guiding principle is the same as it’s been for 20 years -- to respect our users and put them first.”

Noted. But not necessarily believed.

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