back to article Google Pixel: Devices are a dangerous distraction from the new AI interface

There was a distinct whiff of the retro about Google’s launch of its Pixel smartphone. Exclusives with selected large mobile operators; yet another attempt to create a unified Android experience; even the clear focus on Apple as the primary competition – all these should be issues of the past. "Premium is a very important …

  1. James 51 Silver badge

    We need a viable alternative to Apple and the infantailisation of users and Google's privacy invasion policies.

    1. Dave 126 Silver badge

      Then pay for it.

      If that business model is not viable, then no number of comments on The Reg (preaching to the choir) is going to fix it. Sorry folks.

      If you really want it, start a discussion about how this might be achieved... probably best to start with AOSP (because Tizen, Maemo, Meago, WebOS, BB10 et al have been so well supported by developers /s), but you'll need a huge investment in alternatives to Google's services and propriety APIs - ask Amazon, Samsung or Blackberry. Then bear in mind that many people who care about their privacy decided iOS was the lesser of two evils some time ago.

      Microsoft was attempting to use user privacy on phones as a selling point a few years back, but yeah...

      1. James 51 Silver badge

        I do. I had a Q10 and Blackberry abandoning their hardware is the only reason I don't have a passport or priv.

    2. Filippo

      Do we, really? I mean, people have been making phones that are not Apple and not Google and actually have respectable privacy policies - they don't sell. Because the vast majority of people really don't give half a crap about their privacy. If a new manufacturer, or a dozen, came out with nice phones that respect privacy, their phones would only get bought by a handful of people like you and me, and fail quickly.

      If we want better privacy, we should not demand phones with better privacy. We should be educating people, all the people, on why privacy matters. If we can do that, the phones with better privacy will appear very soon.

      Of course, that's *hard* to do - but it's also the only way. A handful of people like you and me are just not enough to support an industry that respects privacy, and if such an industry appeared out of nowhere in the current culture, it'd just collapse in short order.

      1. 2+2=5 Silver badge

        @Filippo

        > Of course, that's *hard* to do - but it's also the only way.

        There is another option. We can support the various open source initiatives that try to provide more secure alternatives (for example CopperheadOS) or the open source initiatives that try to provide features like contacts and calendar syncing to a PC without needing to use anyone's cloud.

        1. Captain DaFt

          There's another, other option: Feature phones.

          I went that route, and I can text, do email, watch Youtube, I could even <gag> Facebook <spit>if I wanted. (NOPE!)

          Plus it's a damn good phone for... get ready... making phone calls! And it will easily go a week between charges!

          But just try to find one! The carriers have them, but they keep them tucked away out of sight, and will move Heaven and Earth to sell you an iPhone or a 'Droid.

          If that fails, it's "Oh! I see you are a flip phone man!", and parade an endless string of them.

          It takes determination and mettle to purchase a bog standard candy bar style feature phone in this day and age, unless you live in a non-western country.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            But it flops on one key feature: on-the-spot researching. That's one big reason the browser-on-a-phone took off. It offered a really useful feature that you can't do any other way, especially in time-limited circumstances like a sale where the only way you can be sure you can buy it is to keep it in your hand, which means you can't go home to do the research. And if you drop it, Murphy strikes: you go home, find out it's legit and come back only to find it's sold out everywhere now.

            So no, making phone calls ISN'T the main purpose of a cell phone these days. Nor is doing texts. It's having access to a world of knowledge on a moment's notice.

  2. Si 1

    iOS 10 adoption

    You're a bit behind on the iOS10 adoption rate, it's reckoned to be 54% already with 38% still iOS9 and 8% on an earlier version.

  3. steelpillow Silver badge

    Pixel's immediate target is not actually to usurp Apple, but the challenger to it, Samsung. The S7 disaster has handed that to Pixel on a plate. All the first-generation Pixel needs to be is better than the S6. Only exploding iPhones could make Google happier at this time.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      The what?

      There is no S7 disaster, wrong phone, looks like explosion and fire may not be Samsungs only problem, who new version number harmonisation could spoil a brand....

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      There's nothing wrong with the S7 or the S7 edge. The phone that has the problem is the note 7.

    3. twilkins

      I love it, just love it when someone who doesn't know anything about a market feels compelled to give their two-penneth.

      1. Dave 126 Silver badge

        >I love it, just love it when someone who doesn't know anything about a market feels compelled to give their two-penneth.

        Yet we can still learn from them. In this case we learn than people can confuse the Galaxy Note 7 with the Galaxy S 7. It is not unreasonable to assume they are not the only person to do so, which may concern Samsung.

        1. DougS Silver badge

          S7 sales have dropped since the fires began

          It may be just a Note 7 problem, and the '7' harmonization probably doesn't help, but the real factor is the constant mention of "Samsung" in all the reporting about the Note 7 fires. Reportedly Galaxy S7 sales have dropped significantly in the past month. I doubt that's consumer confusion - more like brand damage.

          It will take Samsung some time to recover. Their biggest problem is that it is impossible to have a 0.00% "catching fire" where lithium batteries are concerned, no matter what you do. Undoubtedly a couple Galaxy S8s will catch fire in the weeks after launch. They won't be Samsung's fault, indeed I'll bet it will be the most well-tested phone Samsung ever releases because of its importance to help them rebuild their brand image.

          Once the press catches wind of those first couple fires, it will make the news everywhere. Sure, when dozens of reports don't start cropping up everywhere they'll forget about it, but those headlines of "does Samsung have another exploding phone problem" will serve to remind the public of the fiasco and will harm sales of the S8.

          If they release another "Note" (but called something else, as that name is permanently tarnished in the public's mind) next fall, maybe that can be the start of their turnaround, but it will be a very long slow process. In the meantime, Google will probably sell millions of additional Pixels they never would have sold had the Note 7 been trouble-free.

  4. Warm Braw Silver badge

    This is Google’s latest attempt to create a unified experience

    ... if by "unified experience" you mean "dystopian nightmare".

    1. m0rt Silver badge

      Re: This is Google’s latest attempt to create a unified experience

      Amen.

      Google are not doing this for love of technology. Or for love of expanding human horizons. They are doing it because it will bring them money. They are increasingly controlling the gateway to the internet. They are a modern URL. Interestingly, a friend and I compared results on a google.co.uk search. We got slightly different results. No doubt there will be reasons why these where different, but they will extend and become more personalised and soon...your device will be your passport to the digital realm, complete with border checks, exlusion lists and categorisation. And it may also be revoked, leaving you a non-citizen.

      Think I am talking alarmist shit? I hope you do and that you can tell me why I am making erroneous accustations.

      Increasingly I am of the opinion that the only person that seems to be on the side of the 'User' is Richard Stallman.

      Gasps and finger pointing, derision and laughter, with the odd thrown bottle, I see and hear at my opinion.

      But screw it. At least he is bloody transparent.

      It is all going to end in tears.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Just give up and let use replace your eyes with G-eyes! You'll see all the things you want to see

    Step unto our G-trolley and you'll automatically be guided to the places you want to go.

    Integrate your money to the G-trolley to automatically buy the things you want to buy.

    In fact - let us scan your patterns for a day or two, then kill yourself, and we'll simulate the rest of your life for you. Much more convenient for everyone.

    1. Scott Broukell

      But fear not, your remains will not be wasted - once converted into tasty Soylent G-Goop, your remains will help to nourish G-Exectutives and their family members - the ones living in those huge steel and glass luxury gated communities that you could only ever vaguely aspire to.

  6. dajames Silver badge

    [Google] has always had a rather strained relationship with smartphone vendors, thanks to its decision to place the onus for Android security and feature updates on these manufacturers and the carriers.

    Google didn't "decide" to place the onus for updates on the manufacturers and carriers. That's not how it worked at all.

    Google "decided" to allow the manufacturers and carriers to add their own personalization to the OS software shipped in handsets -- not because Google wanted that, but because the manufacturers claimed they needed to be able to imprint the OS with their own distinctive 'brand', and the carriers claimed that they needed customization to promote their own online services to their customers. Google probably agreed to this because neither the manufacturers nor the carriers would have adopted Android without it.

    This led to a situation in which the Android code shipped on actual devices differed from the stock Google/AOSP code, and any updates had to be tailored first for each device and then for each carrier.

    Consequently, Google has completely lost control of the ability to effectively push updates to the billions of Android phones out there.

    Again. Google didn't "lose" that ability, it never had it. Once the OEMs and carriers were modifying the code only they could issue updates. That was the price of Android adoption.

    Unfortunately Google did not negotiate licensing terms with those OEMs and carriers that would have enabled Google to compel them to issue updates in a timely fashion. That's what we really need, here.

    1. fuzzie

      Google made some steep trade-offs in order to facilitate rapid market share growth. Part of that was making it easy for OEM's to get started and the freedom for them to differentiate themselves in the market. Google didn't have the take-it-leave-it clout of Apple against operators. The OEMs were Google's foot into the non-US market to build volume. OEMs got to do all the heavy lifting of localization, operator partnerships, distribution channels, regional certification and deeper product categories.

      The technical debt that's been slowly maturing, was the lack of separation between the Google-supplied platform, i.e. kernel, Android API, baseband stacks, etc. and the "application" layer. That meant any fixes to Android requires re-integration by OEMs of stuff like SD Card/USB Mass Storage, Bluetooth profiles, dual SIM support, power management, etc that customers expected, but that wasn't in the stock Android product. Typically that new bundle would also require recertification... adding more time/money.

      OEMs don't get much heads-up on new releases (Nougat was a bit of an exception). It's kernel/driver board pack about a week before release and then the AOSP code dump shortly after release.

      Those were pretty reasonable trade-offs to quickly capture market share. By the time the OEMs started noticing the water getting toasty, Android had sufficient market share that Google could start turning the screws on them about look'n'feel/features, launchers, Play Services, etc as we've seen happing since KitKat. Now they water's bubbling and Google's strapping on the napkin.

  7. Cuddles Silver badge

    VR

    "this is essentially a means of strapping a phone to your face and immersing yourself in VR content"

    We're still a very long way from having phones that are capable of powering VR, or that have screens capable of displaying it properly. That's still very much the realm of high-end PCs and dedicated headsets, with even consoles struggling to get anywhere near an acceptable experience. Until we're able to fit the equivalent of a GTX1080 in a phone in another decade or so, mobile VR will remain very much limited to strapping a phone to your face without any chance of that "immersing yourself in VR" part.

    1. Drat

      Re: VR

      Yes the phone VR experience is not the full experience you get from high end PC with dedicated headsets, but don't forget the lesson of VHS v BETAMAX, price and accessibility can sometimes trump performance.

      1. Mage Silver badge
        Facepalm

        Re: VR

        Real VR vs a strap-on phone is like BluRay vs Philips N1500, not even VHS.

    2. Dave 126 Silver badge

      Re: VR

      > Until we're able to fit the equivalent of a GTX1080 in a phone in another decade or so, mobile VR will remain very much limited to strapping a phone to your face without any chance of that "immersing yourself in VR" part.

      Games can still be just as fun without the latest fancy graphics, and even gaming PCs don't fool anyone that they are looking at reality.

      Heck, the only games system to make a success of more immersive games, the Nintendo Wii, had underpowered graphics compared to its peers - the fun came from how players interacted with it, not how many polygons it was pushing around.

      Your level of 'acceptable' appears to be arbitrarily chosen.

      1. Cuddles Silver badge

        Re: VR

        "Games can still be just as fun without the latest fancy graphics, and even gaming PCs don't fool anyone that they are looking at reality."

        It's nothing to do with fancy graphics. VR requires a separate high resolution display for each eye, and high framerates. As I already pointed out, many VR games actually have very simplistic graphics specifically to enable them to spend as much of the available processing power as possible on the important rendering part. It's fine to have simple, cartoony graphics in VR, what is a problem is when everything is presented as a pixelated stuttering mess. I'm not aware of any phone capable of rendering two 1920x1080 images at 60+ fps, at which point it's irrelevant how fancy the graphics being rendered might be.

        "Your level of 'acceptable' appears to be arbitrarily chosen."

        No, it's chosen according to actual biology. It's easy to enjoy games with poor graphics on a normal screen because your eyes and brain simply view it as one small part of the visible world. When you inject the image directly into your eyes to the exclusion of all else, much more consideration of how those eyes actually work is required. This is pretty much the sole reason VR didn't take off in the '80s - enjoyable games with primitive graphics were all over the place, but there was simply no hardware capable of presenting them in acceptable manner in VR. If it was just a case of having less fancy graphics, we'd have all been using VR for the last 30 years. We've now just about reached the point where commercial hardware is capable of doing so, but that doesn't mean that all hardware can do so.

    3. tony72

      Re: VR

      I don't see how you reached that conclusion, and I suspect you haven't actually used Gear VR or Daydream. Plenty of reviewers who have seem to have a very different take, e.g. this, "go blow a chunk of paycheck on the Samsung Gear VR. It’s 85-percent of the same experience for 50-percent of the price."

      If Gear VR is really not all that much worse of an experience than Rift, by all reports Daydream is significantly better than Gear VR. The Daydream spec for screens, sensors etc was set precisely to enable a good VR experience, we're not talking slow-refresh LCDs and whatnot here. Plus mobile VR is, well, mobile; you don't need to lug a PC around like with your Rift.

    4. Brandon 2

      Re: VR

      Call it what you want... it makes my Grandma queasy...

      1. DougS Silver badge

        Strapping a phone to your head is a joke

        A picture of someone with their smartphone strapped to their head for "VR" will one of the icons of embarrassment for the 2010s, alongside past things that make us laugh today like mullets, crocs, carrying "mobile" phones the size and weight of bricks that have a 2' antenna you have to extend, and so on.

  8. LDS Silver badge

    "Remote control for our lives"

    I'm afraid he meant our lives will be remotely controlled by Google... and Google knows it has to control the hardware too, not only the software, to achieve it.

    Nokia dismissal by Nadella has nothing to do with the difficulty to go after Apple - he did before even trying, while still developing a mobile OS (+ Continuum + UWP) which nobody understand on what hardware will it run on, and who will push that hardware to customers.

    Does really Nadella believe he can port Cortana and other MS AI bots on other systems controlled by competitors? Without an appealing nobile hardware platform running an MS OS, it will be Google and Apple to remotely control most people lives...

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Of course, Apple has huge smartphone power

    13℅ marketshare and falling very quickly. Since when has that been power? Just a few hipsters left willing to put up with the restrictions iPhone places on you compared to other superior hardware and software offerings.

    In short, Nexus was already the iPhone killer in hardware and software terms, Pixel turns the heat up even more, offering the full support package

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Of course, Apple has huge smartphone power

      In short, go Google, I love you Google, suck all my data Google, do it to me harder!!! Yes! YES!!!

      FTFY.

    2. D@v3

      Warning !! Anecdote alert !!

      i could take a walk around the building, (not the office) and i would lose count of how many iphones i see, i wouldn't even run out of fingers for Androids.

      I don't know that any of the mid to late 40 year old nurses, therapists, social workers and doctors would be classed as hipsters.

  10. Preston Munchensonton
    Stop

    Total bollocks

    This is the wrong target in a world where the new web experiences are being driven by Facebook rather than Apple.

    Facebook, really? Not sure they've really introduced any worthwhile new "web experiences" for most users in a long time, and the last time they did most users bitched about how the interface changed for the worse.

    I suppose the author would rather that Google had been brave to follow in the highly successful footsteps of the Facebook phone. #smh

  11. Wade Burchette

    Apples/Oranges

    "It seems that the firm cannot resist trying to be an integrated hardware/software provider like Apple, even though it has seen how difficult and ultimately self-defeating that quest is – with its own purchase and sale of Motorola and its disappointing Android One platform; and with the debacle of rival Microsoft’s acquisition of Nokia’s handset business."

    A few things. First, in the US, this new Google Phone is on one carrier only. Google does not have an army of zealots waiting to buy whatever they produce; there is no Google cult like there is an Apple cult. If you want your device to succeed, limiting yourself to one carrier is not a good idea. Apple could get away with for a while because they are Apple.

    Second, why did Motorola fail? That question is not asked but it is just assumed that Motorola Androids failed because Samsung.

    Third, the Nokia situation is Apples to Oranges. Nokia went full bore with Windows mobile. But Microsoft screwed that up so bad that it never had a chance to succeed. Nokia failed because they had (or were made to) hitched their wagon to a platform that was not properly supported. Thus, the apps never came. Android does not have such problems.

    1. Mikel

      Re: Apples/Oranges

      >Second, why did Motorola fail? That question is not asked but it is just assumed that Motorola Androids failed because Samsung.

      It's amusing that folks assume Google's acquisition of Motorola failed. They still have the patents, and have been using them to win the mobile patent wars. They applied the accumulated business losses to their own taxes. They flogged off a viable phone hardware business with a legacy and culture that they didn't need or want at a fair price. There is a lot of odds and ends left over. They got a lot out of it. It's just not plainly obvious.

      Or maybe you're talking about pre-acquisition Moto? That would be getting over leveraged to overproduce a couple flopped products while bleeding resources from distracting side projects. Nokia and Blackberry aren't the only ones to suffer hubris.

    2. W4YBO

      Re: Apples/Oranges

      "First, in the US, this new Google Phone is on one carrier only."

      I expect Verizon's commercials that include the tagline "Only on Verizon" are meant to promote that idea, but it ain't exactly true. Google has partnered with Verizon for the new Pixel line, but that just means Verizon/Pixel phones will get stuck with old Android versions, just like current Verizon customers. Want a different carrier? Change the SIM.

      My Project Fi Nexus connects to Sprint, T-Mobile, and U.S. Cellular, as well as my home WiFi for voice calls.

  12. Whitter
    Meh

    Volume or niche?

    Given the Pixel's price point, can this really be seen as a volume product?

    And should it be niche rather than volume, does it still represent a "best-practice" example phone for other OEMs to follow rather than a serious challenge?

    1. Dave 126 Silver badge

      Re: Volume or niche?

      Thank you Whitter for a sane and measured comment.

      Sadly, Subtle = Invisible, on the internet.

    2. Mikel

      Re: Volume or niche?

      As was pointed out in the article, Apple's similarly premium product moves a fair bit of volume. As do other brands. This is a pretty big niche.

      Realistically the price has to be high to ramp the volume quickly enough for the product to be significant. With only one year to be the top tier of the brand they have to invest billions in supply chain to accelerate from zero to wherever they end up when it's time to refresh, and that level is where the next gen starts. You just can't do that with 5% gross margin, even if you are the global online marketing champion.

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Terminator

    AI agenda revealed

    "Google’s AI engine in control of all online activities from home to office, from car to phone."

    Translation: minimize user configuration, maximize obfuscation, de-standardize, monopolize.

    It'll be so intelligent, before you even type 1 letter it'll know you want to change all privacy settings to "share everything".

  14. techulture

    The non-English majority

    One big omission here is the fact that most people normally communicate in another language than English.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: The non-English majority

      NORMALLY communicate? I don't think so, not when English has pretty much become the lingua franca, if not because of the US then because of the wide spread of the Commonwealth.

  15. fuzzie

    Frankly, it struggles with my (not first-language) South African English accent. Google Translate does a reasonable job, but Google Now is an exercise in frustration.

  16. ElectricFox
    Alien

    Paul Verhoeven's Starship Troopers predicted the evolution of this ecosystem

    <!Gory Video!>

    https://youtu.be/6JKBQnNs_wk?t=28s

  17. inmypjs Silver badge

    "ever more accurate and personalized responses"

    Which requires google to have ever more personal information about you - no thanks. I won't use google now as it stands.

  18. John Crisp

    Assistance...

    Where's the off button ?

    1. Haku

      Re: Assistance...

      Your local hardware store has a bunch of 'off' buttons to choose from, you'll find them in the hammer aisle.

  19. User McUser
    Trollface

    No thanks.

    With a fabric cover, available in three shades, this is essentially a means of strapping a phone to your face and immersing yourself in VR content.

    So I take this phone with a nice explody-possible battery and I put it real close to my eyes in an enclosed container made of flammable material?

    What could possibly go wrong?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: No thanks.

      "So I take this phone with a nice explody-possible battery and I put it real close to my eyes"

      The batteries haven't been exploding, they have been getting extremely hot. It isn't just a semantic difference, it's the difference between shrapnel and a hot but controllable object.

      Also, between the battery and your eyes is an LCD display and a pair of lenses. It isn't exactly high risk.

    2. Dave 126 Silver badge
      Stop

      Re: No thanks.

      I'd rather remove a piece of burning fabric from my skin than I would a piece of burning ABS plastic. [If you want to know my reasoning, there is an easy experiment that you can perform at home. Or perform next to a medical centre with a good burns unit. It's up to you, but I strongly suggest you don't. ]

      Anyway, I'd rather have a phone catch fire when it is a few inches away from me than have one combust when it is in my pocket - or next to my bed when I am asleep. [Again, you can demonstrate this to yourself using some readily available materials...]

  20. Mr.Bill

    upgrades?

    I always question the "everyone is sitting around impatiently waiting for android upgrades" thing. I've used samsung because they've always had the important user facing features first, (not that they were always fully baked). What has android introduced over the last few years, that samsung and others hadn't had for years, that weren't internal OS improvements going forward, or that couldn't be added via play services or support libraries. For example the key user noticeable "feature" for android 5 was a painfully long boot time after a cache wipe or upgrade. Also I can think of the generally unnoticed google on tap, and the potential for a bit longer battery life. Eventually they introduced native IR support which they didn't use on nexus, and the IR phones have continued to disappear since.

  21. All names Taken
    Childcatcher

    C'mon el reg - get real?

    The main reason that pixel count counts is because there is chipset ways of doing stuff = so what?

    (And maybe that too is something to do with powercell cooking up?)?

  22. john devoy

    As far as i know from forums the free daydreamvr only applies to the usa. Doesn't the new AI assistant rely on the user giving Google permission to monitor and store everything done on the phone? The NSA must be kicking themselves for not thinking of it first...get people to pay a fortune to have everything they do monitored.

  23. andrewnielsen

    If only Google had your insight into how they should run their business. But the upside is, they can find out here for FREE.

  24. Grunchy

    "a world where the new web experiences are being driven by Facebook"

    Uhhhhh........ what?!

  25. This post has been deleted by its author

  26. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "...new web experiences are being driven by Facebook..."

    yeah, right

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