By Dieter Bohn | Photography by James Bareham
In a nationally televised commercial that premiered last month, an empty search box sitting against a stark white background slowly morphs, becoming taller and skinnier. As Redbone croons “Come and get your love,” the lines take shape and the outline of a phone emerges. It is, of course, the Pixel, a new phone “made by Google.” The metaphor damn near hits you in the face: the search box once defined Google, but now Google needs to be something more.
It needs to find what comes after that bare search box and the basic web page results it often returns. Google has been around for 18 years now and someday — perhaps soon — a better paradigm for using the internet is going to supplant the ubiquitous box. At the same time, Google has also decided it needs to become a hardware company, making its own products instead of leaving that work solely to partners.
The two needs are directly related. If something is going to replace the search box, you can be sure Google wants to create it. And it may have, with the Google Assistant — the company’s take on an AI assistant that’s powered by Google’s massive cloud infrastructure and the huge amount of data it knows about you. But even the best software is pointless without compelling hardware to run it. And if you’re Google, would you trust the future of the company to your hardware partners? No, you’d want to control the entire thing, end to end.
That’s why today Google is unveiling an entire, interconnected hardware ecosystem: two phones, an intelligent speaker, a VR headset, a Wi-Fi router, and a media-streaming dongle. And the most important parts of that ecosystem — the Pixel phone and Google Home speaker — exist to be the ideal vessels for the Google Assistant. The rest of the products fill out Google’s ecosystem, but are also enhanced by Google’s cloud-based intelligence.
In making its own hardware, Google is pitting itself against Apple for the first time, Google phone vs. iPhone. Those are very high stakes, with very little margin for error. So it looks like Google decided to follow a simple dictum:
If you want something done right, you have to do it yourself.