Alphabet’s Google has unveiled new Pixel smartphones with higher quality cameras, a radar sensor to track hand gestures and faster virtual assistant, but the devices had no surprise features to set them apart from rivals and nix concerns about price.
The Pixel 4 phones, in two sizes, headlined a New York press event on Oct. 15 at which Google also announced its first moderately priced laptop, first wireless earbuds and upgrades to its to well-reviewed Wifi router and burger-sized smart speaker.
Google started developing hardware about four years ago, wagering that it could introduce artificial intelligence into devices faster and better than rivals and that consumers would clamor for such features.
The strategy has generated mixed results. But the world’s largest search company is pushing forward, not wanting to cede ground to Amazon, Facebook and other competitors which are investing in hardware to make users spend more time on their services.
Google’s lower-priced devices have been top sellers, but are far from being major profit drivers. Higher-priced devices, such as the Pixel phones, have gained little traction versus those of industry leaders such as Samsung and Apple because of limited marketing and stiff competition.
Consumers are also holding on to their devices for much longer.
People are “starting to look for more affordable smartphone options instead of going for a high-end, premium smartphones for (over) $800,” said Maurice Klaehne, a devices analyst at technology market researcher Counterpoint.
The fourth-generation Pixel starts at $799 for a 5.7-inch (14.5-cm) display and $899 for a 6.3-inch display, and for the first time all four major U.S. wireless carriers will offer the smartphones, beginning Oct. 24.
A new feature based on radar technology enables users to skip songs or issue other commands by waving their hands above the screen.
The phones include a telephoto lens and improved software to take photos of the night sky. Google Assistant has been deeply integrated into the device to reduce response times.
The Pixel 3a boosted Google’s smartphone sales to 4.1 million in the first half of 2019, compared to 4.7 million for all of 2018. Still, Google accounted for under 1 percent of smartphones shipped during the second quarter.
The new 13.3-inch touchscreen Pixelbook Go laptop, starting at $649, features a textured bottom panel, meant to make it easier to grip with one hand while working in transit.
It follows the Pixelbook, which debuted in 2017 with a starting price of $999. It has barely made a dent on the market, to the point that some researchers do not track it.
Google also announced Pixel Buds, a set of wireless earbuds with hands-free access to Google Assistant launching next spring in the United States for $179.