What's going on?
Google, now a unit of Alphabet Inc., hosted a product launch event on Tuesday that was billed by some as the biggest day ever for Google hardware (tweet this). A central theme was artificial intelligence (AI).
What does this mean?
With its huge amount of data, search capabilities, and mapping software, Google should be well-positioned to be a leader in AI (think: find me a restaurant near tonight’s concert venue). And yet, Apple (Hey, Siri) and Amazon are still leading the pack when it comes to AI-powered virtual assistants (supposedly the future hub of personal AI). At its heart, Tuesday’s event was an attempt to combat this trend. Google launched a slew of new hardware products, including a better phone and a Home hub device in an attempt to put Google’s AI-driven software in users’ hands.
Why should I care?
The bigger picture: Software companies are focusing more on hardware.
With the exception of Apple, the world’s biggest tech companies primarily make software (e.g. Alphabet, Amazon and Facebook). But with the launch of Amazon Echo, Facebook’s virtual reality headset, and Snapchat’s new glasses, software companies are increasingly making an effort to own the device (i.e. the hardware) on which the interaction with the user takes place. This could be used to effectively block out software from other providers (e.g. you can’t use Google’s AI software on the Amazon Echo).
For markets: Google has a terrible track record with hardware – will this time be different?
Google has produced some flops (Google glasses, anyone?), but it’s also made some excellent – although largely overlooked – smartphones. Some say that Google’s products lack the premium user experience of, say, the iPhone. Perhaps of more relevance, Google (arguably) has never effectively marketed its devices. If selling hardware has indeed become more important, Google will want to massively improve on its past performance.