Google Has Finally Realized That Hardware is Sexy. But …

2 minute read
| Editorial

Google’s latest hardware offerings suggest that the company has finally figured out something important. Almost.

This morning, I watched CNET’s very good video synopsis of Google’s October 4 hardware announcements.”Every important moment from Google’s product event in 5 minutes.” Here’s a recap of the products announced.

Google's new product line.

Image credit: Google

  1. The Google Pixel 2 (and XL) smartphones ($649 and $849 (OLED)).
  2. Google Pixel Buds (wireless headphones), featuring realtime language translation. Like Apple’s AirPods.
  3. Google Home mini ($49, like the Amazon Dot).
  4. Google Home Max ($399, like Apple’s HomePod).
  5. Google Pixelbook. ($999, 2-in-1 high performance Chromebook).
  6. Google Pixelbook Pen ($99 like the Apple Pencil).
  7. Google Clips ($249, a new kind of home camera).

I won’t go into technical details here or availability dates here. What’s more important to me is that Google, after years dabbling in hardware products is finally getting the idea that customers love cool hardware driven by great software. But there’s a wrinkle that needs exploring.

First, the hardware aspect is interesting. Software alone is hard to love. It does its job, but we no longer drool over software. Everything that can be done in apps has been done in apps.

But hardware is different. You can touch it. You can walk into a store and admire its design. While computers can manage thousands of apps, we only have space in our lives for so much hardware, and what we select has be very special. It takes up space costs real money. It has to look good, be appealing, be tactile and have great functionality.

All of Google’s new products look great.

How About the Software?

What Google doesn’t do a great job at, it seems to me, is making us appreciate the software that drives the hardware. Google, in that video above, is clearly all about showing off its deep software and AI expertise, as in realtime audio language translation, but the one product tends to follow Google’s tendency to be slightly creepy. As we saw with Google Glass.

The Google Clips is the best example of that. This business of having cameras in our homes, not under our direct control, is getting to be an uncomfortable trend, one that I explored in last Friday’s Particle Debris.

A product like this appears to me to violate the spirit of what Steve Jobs was trying to achieve when he’d introduce a new product and close with: “This is why we do what we do.” There was a deep humanity and passion for the human spirit: love, family, and respect for self and others. The result was a feeling of joy for the hardware that translates into sales.

That’s what I think Google is lacking in some of its new offerings, many of which are clearly me-too products. That’s why Apple’s HomePod is all about great music and a socially responsible Siri that honors the customer’s privacy. Google, it seems to me, hasn’t quite figured out how to reign in its penchant for its own brand of software expertise that overreaches instead of invoking deep respect and celebration.

Goggle may be on a better path now. But until it focuses on why the company builds hardware products and what its end goal is for the customer experience, as Mr. Jobs taught us, then the cool hardware won’t satisfy, let alone be revered, in the long term.

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eolake

This is amazing. At first I thought it was a spoof. Based on how Steve Jobs spoke in keynote speeches, Apple executives are now speaking in a very special way in keynotes. They make small pauses all the time, often more than once per sentence, and they keep emphasising key words in each sentence, so the audience has no way of not following what they think is important… It’s very distinct! Additionally, they all the time talk about their LOVE and EXCITEMENT about the products they introduce. (It may be a little exaggerated from Apple, but I don’t buy it… Read more »

Ned
Member
Ned

I’m no fan of Google and the jury’s still out on Amazon for me though I do have couple of Echo Dots and a Fire Tablet, both of which I really like. The microphone can be shut off on these and leaving them on has made me ponder the science fiction I grew up with. A paradigm shift that needs the publics’ attention as Walt Mossberg suggested – how far do you want it to go before you’ve allowed it to go? Surely, Bones, Scotty and the gang had an always listening computer on the Enterprise. That’s the future we… Read more »

Lee Dronick
Member
Lee Dronick

Yes, but is Google hardware a chick magnet? See today’s Joy of Tech comic

http://www.geekculture.com/joyoftech/joyarchives/2457.html

Jamie
Member
Jamie

Great piece, and great comments. Regarding privacy being the foundation for all other rights, I completely agree, and it would behoove young people to learn: they may not understand privacy, but they sure pitch a fit when the privileges it engenders are threatened. 😉

aardman
Member
aardman

Great. So now Google has the temerity to ask you to pay them for the privilege of turning yourself into an even more attractive product that* they can sell to advertisers.

I do not understand why the idea of government acting like Big Brother is a totally reprehensible dystopian nightmare, but when it’s a private corporation, well it’s nothing short of a utopian wet dream.

*’That’ not ‘whom’, ‘Whom’ would be acknowledging your personhood, something I strongly suspect Google is loathe to do.

geoduck
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geoduck

Good points, but if I may I’d like to play devil’s advocate for s bit. {caution old fogey rant} We now have a major part of the population that has been helicopter parented from day one. They were spied on throughout school. Rewarded for turning in someone that might be doing anything out of line. They are used to metal detectors everywhere they go. Bag searches and body scans are routine for everything from catching a plane to seeing a baseball game. All for a myth of perfect safety. They had images of themselves posted to the web as tiny… Read more »

pjs_boston
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pjs_boston

Your point about privacy is well taken, but I think John’s (and Jony Ive’s) point about intention is valid. People can sense intention in design. Lovingly crafted objects have the ability to generate excitement. Me too products that exist for reasons other than the love of making a great product come across as cynical and don’t engender the same feelings in the owner.