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Pixel upgrade, Google earbuds, highlight Google’s push into hardware


AFP

Friday 6 October 2017, 09:16AM


Google on Wednesday unveiled new versions of its Pixel smartphone, the highlight of a refreshed line aimed at weaving artificial intelligence deeper into modern lives.

The company also introduced its new Pixel ear buds that the company says are capable of real-time translation of conversations in different languages

Google software and artificial intelligence were common threads in the gamut of new devices it unveiled to step up its challenge on the hardware front to rivals such as Apple and Amazon

The new Pixel 2 and larger Pixel 2 XL are the first Google-made phones to be released since the California tech giant announced the acquisition of key segments of Taiwan-based electronics group HTC.

The upgraded smartphones will be available for order as of Wednesday in six countries starting at $649 (B21,000) for five-inch display Pixel 2, and $849 (B28,000) for the six-inch Pixel 2 XL.

The new aluminum-body smartphones along with Google's upgraded connected speakers and new laptop computer all aim to infuse artificial intelligence to make the devices more user-friendly, built around the Google Assistant -- the rival to Amazon's Alexa, Microsoft's Cortana and others.

Google vice president Rick Osterloh said Google's new devices "are simple to use and they anticipate your needs."

Osterloh told the product launch event in San Francisco: "You interact with your devices naturally with your voice or by touching them."

Google, by bringing in a team of engineers from HTC, aims to emulate the success of Apple iPhones by controlling the hardware as well as the software used in the premium-priced handsets.

The revamped camera in the smartphone retains a single lens, but seeks to improve images via "computational photography," an artificial intelligence tool that can enhance pictures.

Analyst Ian Fogg of IHS Markit said in a tweet that the new smartphone "adds incremental improvements on the great v1" while noting that "Google's challenge is to solve production limits which hurt the original."

Fogg said the use of computation to improve images with a single lens "is technically impressive."

 

Mini speaker, mini camera 

Google announced a slimmed down version of its connected speaker called Google Home Mini starting at $49 (B1,600) in the United States, stepping up its challenge to market leader Amazon.

The new Google Home Mini is available for pre-order in the seven countries where the device is offered, and will go on sale in stores October 19, the company said.

The new speaker, which responds to voice commands using artificial intelligence, is less than half the price of Google's first generation speaker and makes this "more accessible to more people," said Google hardware designer Isabelle Olsson.

A premium version of the speaker -- a $399 (B13,000) Google Home Max unveiled Wednesday -- offers more power and audio quality for music aficionados.

The new Google Clips camera -- one of the surprises of the event -- "looks for smiles (and) moments, because the software is in the camera," said Google product manager Juston Payne.

"It's like having my own photographer shooting and choosing my best moments for me," Payne said of the $249 (B8,0000 device.

 

A new Pixelbook laptop was touted as a "high performance" computer powered by its Chrome operating system and designed as a rival to Microsoft's Surface and Apple's iPad Pro.

With a 12.3-inch display, the device is a convertible PC that can be used as a tablet and is sold starting at $999 (B33,000) for US customers.

 

Real time translation

A demonstration given as Google unveiled a host of new products infused with its digital “Assistant” smarts got people playfully referring to Pixel Buds as an internet-Age version of alien "Babel Fish" depicted in famed science fiction work "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy."

In the literature, inserting a Babel Fish in an ear enabled a person to understand anything spoken in any language.

Pixel Buds, synched to freshly-introduced second-generation Pixel smartphones, promised real-time translations of conversations involving any of 40 languages.

A demonstration at the event included a two-way conversation with one person speaking English and the other Swedish.

"That was one of the best tech demos I've seen in a long time," said Current Analysis consumer devices research director Avi Greengart.

"If it works like that in the real world, that is a 'Wow, we are living in the future' moment."

VentureBeat reporter Dean Takahashi reacted to the demo by firing off a tweet saying "The Babel Fish is here."

Pixel Buds were priced at 159 dollars and will be available in the US beginning in November.

Ear buds can be controlled with touches, swipes, or spoken commands, allowing users to among other things select music, send texts and get directions, a demonstration showed.

 

'AI-first world' 

Google chief executive Sundar Pichai said the new devices showcase the tech giant's artificial intelligence.

"We've been working hard continuing our shift from a mobile-first to an AI-first world," he said.

"We are working on software and hardware together, because that is the best way to drive computing forward."

The launch comes in the wake of Apple's announcement of a new line of iPhones, and Amazon's upgrades to its Echo speakers powered by its Alexa digital assistant

"It is a portfolio designed to take Google into more parts of your life, particularly in your home," Reticle Research analyst Ross Rubin said of the array of devices the internet giant unveiled on Wednesday.

"Amazon is focusing on a range of price points and designs; Google is focusing on a range of experiences."

 

 

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