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Google unveils Pixel 4 phones with radar and more affordable laptop

Smartphone, in two sizes, was revealed at New York event

The new Google Pixel 4 smartphones are displayed during a Google launch event in New York City, New York, US, October 15, 2019. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz
The new Google Pixel 4 smartphones are displayed during a Google launch event in New York City, New York, US, October 15, 2019. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz

Google unveiled new Pixel smartphones with higher quality cameras, a radar sensor to track hand gestures and a faster virtual assistant on Tuesday.

But the devices had no surprise features to set them apart from rivals and justify their price.

The Pixel 4 phones, in two sizes, led a New York event at which Google also announced its first moderately priced laptop, first wireless earbuds and upgrades to its to well-reviewed Wi-Fi router and burger-sized smart speaker.

Google started developing hardware about four years ago, thinking it could introduce artificial intelligence into devices faster and better than rivals and that consumers would clamour for such features.

The strategy has produced mixed results. But the world’s largest search company is pushing forward, not wanting to concede ground to Amazon, Facebook and other competitors, which are investing in hardware to make users spend more time on their services.

Google’s lower-priced devices have been top sellers but are far from being major profit drivers.

Higher-priced devices, such as the Pixel phones, have gained little traction compared with those of industry leaders such as Samsung and Apple because of limited marketing. Consumers are also holding on to their devices for much longer.

People are “starting to look for more affordable smartphone options instead of going for a high-end, premium smartphones for $800 [Dh2,938]", said Maurice Klaehne, a devices analyst at technology market researcher Counterpoint.

That has been good news for the Pixel 3a, which was launched in May starting at $399, Mr Klaehne said.

It will remain available in the dozen countries, including Japan and Germany, where the Pixel 4 will go on sale. India has yet to approve the Pixel 4’s radar chip.

The Pixel 3a boosted Google’s smartphone sales to 4.1 million in the first half of 2019, compared to 4.7 million for all of 2018, technology research company IDC said.

But Google accounted for less than 1 per cent of smartphones shipped during the second quarter.

Google’s product introductions have been slow and deliberate, but the company said just having the devices in the market was good for its brand.

The fourth-generation Pixel starts at $799 for a 14.5cm display and $899 for a 16cm display, and for the first time all four major US wireless carriers will offer the smartphones, starting on October 24.

A new feature based on radar technology enables users to skip songs or issue other commands by waving their hands above the screen.

The phones include a telephoto lens and improved software to take photos of the night sky. Google Assistant has been deeply integrated into the device to reduce response times.

Sherry Lin, a Pixel product manager, said Google tried adding 5G network technology but found that it “just didn’t work very well if trees and buildings got in the way".

“We are working with carriers and need them to put in the infrastructure before we pass on the cost to everyone else,” Ms Lin said.

The new 85.6-centimetre touchscreen Pixelbook Go laptop, starting at $649, features a textured bottom panel, meant to make it easier to grip with one hand while working in transit.

It follows the Pixelbook, which was released in 2017 with a starting price of $999. It has barely made a dent on the market, to the point that some researchers do not track it.

Google slashed costs for Pixelbook Go by shifting to a magnesium casing from aluminum and removing hinges and wiring that enabled the earlier model to be used like a tablet, said product leaders Ben Janofsky and Matt Vokoun.

It also improved the design of parts such as the trackpad to cut manufacturing mishaps and therefore costs.

But the company still included a 15 per cent larger battery and reduced the overall weight of the device to 1.04 kilograms from 1.08kg.

Pre-orders for the Pixelbook Go, which runs Google’s ChromeOS operating system, began on Tuesday in the US and Canada.

Google also announced Pixel Buds, wireless earbuds with hands-free access to Google Assistant, to be launched next spring in the US for $179.

Updated: October 16, 2019 12:10 AM



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