Google unveils latest smartphone: Pixel 2

Global Business

Tech giant Google has unveiled its latest flagship smartphone. The Pixel 2 is designed as a direct competitor to the iPhone and comes with high-end features and a hefty price tag.

But is there room in the smartphone market for another premium device? CGTN’s Phil Lavelle reports.

The model, which will come in standard and XL, features an updated design and camera, improvements to virtual and artificial reality and a body that lets you squeeze it to launch functions.

It comes a year after Google unveiled the original Pixel – seeking to gain a foothold in the premium end of the smartphone market. But it was a launch that was marred by chronic shortages.

Also unveiled on Wednesday: updates to Google’s smart home family with a new Home assistant, a new smart speaker, and laptop running the company’s Chrome OS. But despite the new hardware on show, there was one champion that Google couldn’t mention enough: Google Assistant.

Launched originally a year ago as one of the first Pixel’s key selling points, Google Assistant is a powerful AI concierge, similar to Apple’s Siri or Microsoft’s Cortana. The system takes advantage of Google’s deep learning technology, history in web search and products like Google Play Music, Gmail and Maps. It allows users to do everything from check a flight status and see who is at their front door, to play music and translate languages on the go.

As Google announced each product, Google Assistant was given a mention. It’s clearly one of Google’s proudest moments. The Pixel phone launch was the product that was most eagerly awaited at the unveiling – although recent leaks had taken away the element of surprise for many. It’s a common pattern now, as smartphone makers unveil their latest wares during the hotly watched high-end product launch season, leading up to the holidays.

Samsung recently launched its flagship Note 8 device, with Apple also revealing two new variations of its iPhone line: the iPhone 8/8 Plus and the upcoming iPhone X. But reviewers were quick to point out, even with the leaks, there were few revolutionary talking points:

“I don’t know about ‘change the world’ elements. But we can always get excited about a manufacturer or company like Google trying to reach out to consumers and that’s what the Pixel is”, said Juan Carlos Bagnell, Senior Reviewer at tech website, Pocketnow.

Google needs to be able to fulfill orders though. With the original Pixel not widely available for more than six months after launch, many would-be early adopters were left angry, unable to get their hands on a device or even back-order one.

The company even acknowledged this, saying to reporters on Wednesday: “We just wish we’d had more to go around.”

Juan Carlos adds: “I think Google grossly underestimated the demand – the interest in an ‘iPhone from Google.’ – a really simplified product. So we’re hoping they have their manufacturing chains better positioned to deliver directly to consumers, but for a lot markets, there aren’t going to be opportunities to play with this phone in person. You’re going to have to trust that your online order makes it.”

This is Google’s first major product launch since it bought a chunk of Taiwanese handset maker, HTC. They’ve partnered with HTC many times over the years – the firm built Google’s first Android handset, the G1/Dream, and also last year’s first Pixel device.

But where other Google branded handsets (originally known as Nexus devices) were put out to contract with various manufacturers, including LG, Samsung, Motorola and Huawei, the Pixel is a solely-Google/HTC affair. This is because Google wants to be able to control the entire experience in house, in the same way Apple does. Garrett Reim of the Los Angeles Business Journal explains:

“Google makes the Android operating system and by buying HTC, they’ll be able to closely co-ordinate their software development of their OS with the hardware development which will make for better tech overall and allow it to push out its various innovations.”

All items went up for pre-order immediately, but with a 6-7 week shipping wait. That’s significant in itself, because it allows Google to steal the march on Apple, which has millions of fans apparently waiting for its iPhone X. That launches on November 3rd.

By announcing the Pixel line now, it means Google can sell to the same market, but still buy time to ensure production of the devices can meet demand. Either way, this is the most lucrative time of the year for handset manufacturers as we get into the busy holiday shopping season.

Will it be happy holidays for Google, Apple and Samsung? Very likely.

With both the Pixel and iPhone sure to be in scarce supply, demand is through the roof.

Will it be happy holidays for consumers? Possibly. If they can get their hands on the handset of choice.