Google debuts new Pixel 6, latest try in smartphone fight

Pixel phones have been seen as a way for Google to showcase the capabilities of its free Android mobile operating system.
Pixel phones have been seen as a way for Google to showcase the capabilities of its free Android mobile operating system.PHOTO: AFP

SAN FRANCISCO (AFP, BLOOMBERG) - Google launched new Pixel 6 smartphones on Tuesday (Oct 19), its latest attempt in a market the tech giant has failed thus far to conquer.

The handset sector is dominated by Apple and South Korean electronics colossus Samsung, but Google keeps aiming for a breakthrough with its Android-powered Pixel line.

"Pixel is the best entry point into Google's helpful offerings and services," the phone's product management director Peter Prunuske told a media briefing.

"So we're trying to work across Google to make sure that everything works flawlessly on Pixel," he added.

Pixel phones have been seen as a way for Google to showcase the capabilities of its free Android mobile operating system, but its share of the global smartphone market has been meagre.

Analyst Brad Akyuz explained "Pixel's mediocre penetration performance" by citing tech glitches and United States mobile service providers subsidising other brands in offers to customers.

"The one area where the Pixel has excelled at is software, but it has not been enough to differentiate much," he added.

The new handsets take a page from Apple's playbook with sophisticated hardware and a custom chip that tap into the Internet giant's other offerings.

Samsung uses Google-backed Android software to power phones, pricing many handsets within reach of people on lean budgets.

Apple has consistently aimed iPhones at the high-end of the market, controlling the hardware and software so tightly it has raised anti-trust concerns.

Pixel 6 models, with superfast 5G wireless capability, debut Google's own Tensor chip crafted along the lines of processors it made for data centres to enable computers to think more like people do.

Significant growth

"It's basically a mobile system on a chip designed around artificial intelligence," Google devices senior vice president Rick Osterloh said during a briefing at the company's headquarters in Silicon Valley.

The Pixel 6 hardware and software mix ramps up the smartphone's ability to understand what people say in another step toward a future of "ambient computing", according to Mr Osterloh.

The phrase refers to being able to access the Internet or computing power conversationally at any time as portrayed in the 2013 science fiction romance film Her.

An array of sensors for photography are in a band on the back of the smartphone, with the Pixel 6 having a 6.4 inch, edge-to-edge screen and the Pro model being slightly larger.

"We've actually had significant growth over the last five years or so," Mr Prunuske said of Google's Pixel business.

Pixel 6 pricing starts at US$599 (SS$805), while the Pixel 6 Pro starts at US$899. Google is taking orders for the smartphones, which will be available beginning Oct 28.

Global smartphone shipments overall fell 6 per cent in the third quarter of this year as handset makers struggled to meet demand due to shortages of components, according to market tracker Canalys.

"The chipset famine has truly arrived," said Canalys principal analyst Ben Stanton, adding handset makers have "reluctantly" been pushing up prices.

Samsung was the top smartphone vendor with 23 per cent of the market, while Apple was second with 15 per cent and Chinese firm Xiaomi on its heels with 14 per cent, Canalys reported.

Meanwhile, the roll out of the Pixel 6 was  hampered by online outages that kept would-be shoppers from purchasing the device.  Customers attempting to buy the phones Tuesday immediately had difficulties.

The company’s website crashed, was sluggish or provided error messages to many consumers. The problems lasted for about five hours before being fixed.

“The Google Store was temporarily down but is now back up. We apologise for the inconvenience,” a Google spokesman said in a statement.

It is unclear if the outages stemmed from stronger-than-anticipated demand or an unforeseen bug. 

Customers were still able to order the devices from stores of carrier partners.