For all of Google's strength in search and huge amounts of cash, it really has struggled to be a success beyond its core business. Last week's release of “new” hardware is the company's latest boring announcement, and even some tech media fan boys are wising up to its track record of mediocrity. “Just win, baby,” said Oakland's Al Davis. Like Oakland, Google seems to have had one era of glory with years of fumbling struggles for new success.
Who else but Google could buy a mobile phone business – Motorola Mobility – then sell it off a few years later? At the same time, Google subcontracted its own Nexus-branded devices outside the company, having them built by an assortment of firms on the back end, including Asus, HTC, Huawei, and LG. Pixel, the newest Google consumer phone and brand, is built by HTC, a relationship that seems to be fed as much by HTC's desperation to remain relevant by any means necessary in the phone business as anything.
In a semi-sane world, Google would have figured out how to leverage Motorola's mobile phone experience and resources to build its own phone, rather than raiding the company for its patents and dumping the rest to Lenovo a few years later. Yes, it would have upset cellphone makers, but since the company was getting into the hardware business because it felt manufacturers couldn't deliver the best experience, there was bound to be angst anyways.
Or, like Microsoft, it could have taken all design and manufacturing in-house to offer its own branded hardware. Microsoft seems to have managed to walk the tightrope of building its own hardware while selling an operating system, recognizing the company's future rests more on cloud customers and recurring revenue (the whole “cloud first/mobile first” strategy) than Windows 10, 11, or 36.
Google Pixel Phones are being positioned as the platform to access Google Assistant, the company's AI-eseque personal assistant being compared to Siri, Cortana, and Alexa. Two features that jump out include the “best” camera ever this minute – until the next wave of cell phone hardware – and the ability to get up to seven hours of battery life on just 15 minutes on a charger.... and that's it. There are a lot of software bells and whistles, but nothing that puts the iPhone into the ground.
About the biggest boost to Google for the next 15 minutes is Samsung's Galaxy Note 7, giving the Pixel line a short-term advantage while Samsung figures out how to make existing customers whole and what to name the next generation of Galaxy Note (My friends and I are betting on a Microsoft-esque move and skipping to “10” or changing to a Roman numeral scheme).
But make no mistake - Samsung's cell phone disaster is a setback at this point, not a fatal mistake. Samsung understands the value of brand and quality. The company will work hard to deliver a high-end replacement that is better and combine it with a brand relaunch with its many and numerous business partners. Will it be a humble re-introduction of the Galaxy Note or a record-setting promotion? I don't know, but given the amount of money and resources Samsung has invested into the Internet of Things (IoT) and healthcare, I expect something impressive.
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