Google intends to beat Amazon and Apple with the combination of ‘hardware, software and AI’
Google says it's moving from a 'mobile first' to an 'AI first' world.
Google believes it has found a winning formula in its smartphone war with Apple and in its smart home war with Amazon. That formula, repeated like a mantra October 4 at the company’s “Made by Google” event in San Francisco, is “hardware, software and AI.”
Eight new or updated devices were introduced, from new Pixel smartphones to a Google Home Mini, a new laptop and a new smart camera. All or nearly all of them feature the Google Assistant and are designed to integrate with other Google devices and work seamlessly together. For example, users can put Google Home Mini devices in every room of the house and then, from their Pixel phones driving home, “broadcast” messages intercom-style to their kids throughout the house (“Don’t forget to turn the oven on, I’ll be home in 15 minutes.”)
The devices and their capabilities were generally impressive. Here’s the list of what was announced:
- Google Home Mini and Max speakers
- Google Pixelbook convertible laptop-tablet and stylus
- Google Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL phones
- Google Pixel Buds (wireless earbuds)
- Google Clips camera
- Daydream View VR headset
Google is in a high-stakes battle with Amazon to control the smart home. Research has found that smart speakers are the doorway to other smart home device adoption. He or she who controls the virtual assistant will control the smart home ecosystem. Apple, Microsoft and Samsung are far behind, although it’s still relatively early.
Amazon is currently winning the battle for smart speaker market share and has been rolling out all kinds of new devices and prices, putting Google on the defensive. But Amazon’s Alexa is at a disadvantage vs. the Google Assistant, in terms of breadth and depth of knowledge and capabilities, and Amazon doesn’t have a smartphone — though it’s trying to put Alexa apps on iPhones and Android handsets. Google now has a broader lineup and better integrated devices than Amazon.
The competitive positioning is slightly different vs. Apple. It’s trying to match or exceed Apple with the integration of hardware and software (and ease of use) and differentiate with machine learning, AI and personalization.
The iPhone is the dominant smartphone (I’m not talking about OS share). However, Apple doesn’t have the search index and some of the other capabilities of Google (e.g., Translate). Google bought the HTC smartphone team to better compete with the iPhone, and it has ramped up the emphasis it’s placing on design and UX. Google is also ahead of Apple in machine learning and AI technology, though Apple has been buying companies and beefing up its AI capabilities.
Google said two things yesterday that struck me. It admitted that it doesn’t always invent products but it almost always improves them: search, mobile, browsers and mail were examples (though there are contrary examples, such as social and messaging). Google also argued that in the future “it’s going to be hard to differentiate on [smartphone] specs alone.”
It’s betting that a deeply integrated device experience of hardware, software and AI will win — together with a horizontal array of integrated devices. And in theory, the company is right. This will enable more contextual and personalized computing; and the company’s device ecosystem will also enable persistent or “ambient computing,” as people move from home to car to work and back. At some point, there will also be ecosystem “lock-in” as well.
Having said all this, I also believe that Google’s ultimate victory over Amazon and Apple is not guaranteed. But the company has competitive advantages that the others will need to match or otherwise cleverly overcome.