"But make no mistake: With generation two of its Pixel phone line, unveiled Wednesday in San Francisco, Google really wants to deliver the Google Phone. And by that I mean Google wants you to buy this sleek, shiny phone, on presale now, because it's designed to do something even Apple and its Jesus phone can't: tap into everything Google does well.
'Smartphones might be reaching parity in terms of specs,' Rick Osterloh, Google's hardware chief, said Wednesday during a presentation in San Francisco. So, he said, Google is focused on integrating its software and artificial intelligence tech into the hardware. 'It all starts from reimagining hardware from the inside out.'
Wednesday's presentation also saw the introduction of several other devices, including a $250 standalone camera called the Google Clips and a $400 premium version of its smart speaker, called the Google Home Max.
But Google, at its heart, is in the software business. It's world famous for its iconic search engine. People rely on it every day for Google Maps. YouTube, which Google owns, is the largest video site on the planet. Seven of its products, including the three just mentioned, boast more than a billion users. The others are Android, its mobile operating system; Google Play, its marketplace for apps and entertainment; Chrome, its web browser; and Gmail, its web-based mail service.
The new Pixel phones -- the Pixel 2, priced starting at $650, and the Pixel 2 XL, starting at $850 -- try to tap into Google's 19 years in the search business. The most intriguing tie-in doesn't even have to do with the phones themselves. On Tuesday, Google introduced Pixel Buds, a $160 set of wireless (Bluetooth) earbuds with touch and voice controls. They work with any phone.
Though they'll inevitably draw comparisons to Apple's equally priced AirPods for the iPhone, the Pixel Buds offer one feature that's exclusive to the Pixel phone: a real-time translation mode that works with Google Translate. Tap the side of the right earbud to trigger the voice controls, and say 'Help me speak French,' -- or any of the 40 other supported languages, including Greek, Swahili or Vietnamese -- then speak a phrase you want to be translated. The translated sentence comes out of the Pixel's speaker. When the person replies in French, the English translation is piped directly into your ears.
It's a neat feature. I tried it last week at Google headquarters in Mountain View, California, with simple phrases like, 'How are you doing today?' I used it only very briefly, but It worked well enough. The feature isn't earth-shattering; earbuds from a company called Waverly Labs promise something similar.
But the translation feature highlights the sorts of things Google can do to try to make its phone stand out, using all the data and machine learning it's collected from billions of users over time."