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Google unveils new smartphone line Pixel

Published:Wednesday | October 5, 2016 | 10:00 AM
Pichai.

Google launched an aggressive challenge to Apple and Samsung on Tuesday, introducing its own new line of smartphones called Pixel, which are designed to showcase a digital helper the company calls 'Google Assistant'.

The new phones represent a big new push by Google to sell its own consumer devices, instead of largely just supplying software for other manufacturers.

At a starting price of US$649, the new phones are aimed at the same markets as Apple's iPhone and Samsung's Galaxy flagship phones.

Google executives touted features such as a powerful camera and long-lasting battery during a product event Tuesday, where they said the phones will be sold in two screen sizes 5 inches and 5.5 inches and three colours: black, silver and blue.

But they're clearly hoping that the new Pixel phones will be distinguished by their use of Google's software. A central element of all the new devices is the Google Assistant, a digital helper that uses artificial intelligence to deliver what CEO Sundar Pichai described as "a personal Google for each and every user"

Google makes most of its money from online software and digital ads. But it's putting more emphasis on hardware as it competes for consumers' attention.

New devices could help Google keep its services front and centre in the battle for consumers' attention, said analyst Julie Ask at Forrester Research. Unlike a new mobile app or other software, she noted, it can be an expensive gamble to build and ship new hardware products. "But if you're Google, you can't afford to stop placing bets."

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Google has sold smartphones and tablets under the Nexus brand, which it launched in 2010 as a way to show off the best features of its Android software. But it put relatively little effort into promoting those devices, which have mostly ended up in the hands of Google purists.

Android already powers the majority of smartphones sold around the world. But Samsung, the biggest maker of Android phones, has increasingly been adding more of its own software - even its own Samsung Pay mobile wallet - on the phones it sells. Another big rival, Apple, has built its own services, such as online maps and its own Siri personal assistant, to replace Google's apps on the iPhone.

Google is also promoting its new Home smart speaker as a way to access Google's knowledge hands-free.

It will suggest the best way to get places, thanks to Google Maps, or find answers from other sources, such as Wikipedia. A feature called My Day will also offer a summary of your upcoming day. You'll need to give Google permission to activate that.

Amazon, Apple and Microsoft all have variations of such assistants.

Home will work closely with other Google devices. For example, if you have a Chromecast streaming device, you can use Home to control video on your TV. The feature will be limited at first.

Home will be available for almost US$130 and come with six months of YouTube Red, a US$10-a-month ad-free subscription. Orders start Tuesday; Home will be in stores on November 4. The cylinder-shaped Echo costs US$180, though Amazon also sells a smaller version shaped like a hockey puck that sells for US$50.

- AP