Pixel the first phone wholly by Google

SAN FRANCISCO • For all the bells and whistles of Google's new smartphone, the biggest point of emphasis is tucked away in small type on the back of the device: "Phone by Google".

Today, most of Google's smartphone software runs on devices manufactured by other companies, with Google's presence often relegated to the background.

But with its new Pixel smartphone, introduced on Tuesday at a press event in San Francisco, Google is front and centre and selling a phone that it created - from the industrial design to the components.

The new Pixel phone is "the first phone made by Google inside and out", said Ms Sabrina Ellis of the Pixel product management team.

By using its own name on handsets, the California-based Internet giant is aiming for a bigger slice of the competitive smartphone market, dominated by Samsung and Apple. Its new strategy also puts it more directly in competition with many of its own Android partners.

Google chief executive Sundar Pichai said devices with artificial intelligence (AI) - through which computers can understand what people are saying and respond conversationally with the right information at the right moment - present a seminal moment in computing on a par with the creation of the personal computer, the Internet and smartphones.

"We are evolving from a mobile-first world to an AI-first world," Mr Pichai said.

With Pixel, Google is aiming for a bigger slice of the competitive smartphone market, which is dominated by Samsung and Apple. The device is the first smartphone with built-in Google Assistant, and is part of a major drive to make artificial intellig
With Pixel, Google is aiming for a bigger slice of the competitive smartphone market, which is dominated by Samsung and Apple. The device is the first smartphone with built-in Google Assistant, and is part of a major drive to make artificial intelligence span all kinds of Internet-linked devices. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

"Our goal is to build a personal Google for each and every user."

For Google, artificial intelligence takes form in the Google Assistant. It demonstrated how the Assistant, through a series of questions, can be used to plan a night out - from finding out about concerts to booking a restaurant reservation.

Pixel is the first smartphone with built-in Google Assistant, and is part of a major drive to make artificial intelligence span all kinds of Internet-linked devices.

Google Assistant is also a key part of another product the company introduced on Tuesday, Google Home. As the company's answer to the Amazon Echo, Google Home is a speaker that listens for questions or commands to play music or control Internet-connected devices.

Pixel will come with unlimited storage for photos and videos, and be compatible with the company's new Daydream virtual reality platform. The phone also has a program that makes it easy for users to switch operating systems, a move aimed at encouraging iPhone users to convert to Android.

Google added to the hardware line-up a modular Wi-Fi system that lets a set of interconnected mini modems be spread around homes to make signals strong in all spots. "Unlike a single, central router, multiple Google Wi-Fi points do a better job of delivering connectivity to all parts of the home," Google executive Mario Queiroz said.

Mr Jan Dawson at Jackdaw Research said: "The Pixel phones are clearly being positioned as peers to the iPhone."

Gartner analyst Brian Blau said "the most exciting part" of the announcement was the Assistant, which "is clearly a step into Apple's world" of controlling hardware, software and services.

Pixel will be available with a 5-inch or 5.5-inch display. It will come with a very iPhone-like price, starting at US$649 (S$889). Google Home will sell for US$129 and be available in retail shops on Nov 4.

NYTIMES, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 06, 2016, with the headline 'Pixel the first phone wholly by Google'. Print Edition | Subscribe