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.
- The Google Pixel 2 (and XL) smartphones ($649 and $849 (OLED)).
- Google Pixel Buds (wireless headphones), featuring realtime language translation. Like Apple’s AirPods.
- Google Home mini ($49, like the Amazon Dot).
- Google Home Max ($399, like Apple’s HomePod).
- Google Pixelbook. ($999, 2-in-1 high performance Chromebook).
- Google Pixelbook Pen ($99 like the Apple Pencil).
- 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.