Google challenges the iPhone with launch of Pixel smartphone

Google unveiled its in-house designed Pixel smartphone on Tuesday, October 4, confirming the U.S. firm’s push into hardware. The phone features a built-in assistant similar to the iPhone’s Siri. Google also revealed details of its new “home assistant” virtual reality headset and Wi-Fi router. Google is leading a major push toward artificial intelligence software centered on it new smartphone and other devices.

"We are building hardware with the Google Assistant at its core," said Rick Osterloh, head of a new hardware division at the California-based internet giant. "We believe that the next big innovation is going to take place at the intersection of hardware and software, with A.I. at the center."

Google’s Pixel smartphone will be available with a five-inch display or a 5.5 inch display, starting at $649 for U.S. customers – slightly cheaper than the latest iPhone 7 model. Pre-orders for the smartphone began in Australia, Canada, Germany, Britain and the United States. By using its own name on handsets, Google is aiming for a slice of the heavily dominated smartphone market by Apple and Samsung.

The Pixel is the first smartphone to ship with Google Assistant, and it will come with unlimited storage for photos and videos, and also be compatible with the company’s new Daydream virtual reality platform, AFP reported. “It’s the first phone made by Google inside and out,” said Sabrina Ellis of the Pixel product management team.

The phone features a “smart” camera able to select images from a stream, and a program to make it easy for users to switch operating systems – a move which puts it ahead of the iPhone. But not everyone is convinced that Google will be able to grasp a chunk of the smartphone market, since it is so concentrated.

“Aside from the camera, the new Google Pixels are pretty undifferentiated compared to Samsung and iPhone 7th generation phones,” said Patrick Moorhead of Moor Insights & Strategy. “They don’t exactly swing anyone around the room.”

Google showed off its new Daydream View headset that compatible smartphones can be slipped into to serve as screens for virtual reality experiences. Daydream View bundled with a controller device will be available in November, priced at $79. Google added to the coming hardware line-up with a modular Wi-Fi system that lets a set of inter-connected mini-modems be spread around homes to make signals strong in all spots.

"Unlike a single, central router, multiple Google Wi-Fi points do a better job of delivering connectivity to all parts of the home," said Google executive Mario Queiroz. The internet giant also introduced its Google Home virtual assistant, described as a voice-activated assistant, which will be a direct challenge to popular Amazon Echo devices. Google Home was priced at $129, with pre-orders starting in the United States on Tuesday. Google Home will begin shipping and be available in retail shops on November 4.