Following an absolute deluge of pre-event leaks and revelations, Google’s new Pixel and Pixel XL smartphones were officially launched yesterday. “Google” is already a verb for finding information online. Now, Google the company wants to make it synonymous with finding information orally.
The Alphabet Inc. unit Tuesday revealed a wireless speaker called Home to take on Amazon.com Inc.’s Echo and two versions of a new high-end smartphone called Pixel aimed at fighting Apple Inc.’s iPhone.
All of the new devices have a digital helper called Google Assistant, which aims to integrate Google’s work in artificial intelligence to respond to voice commands, potentially marking the next step in search.
Google envisions a world in which users ask their phones to make dinner reservations or their home speakers to give advice on removing a stain from a rug.
Google’s Assistant is starting behind rivals including Apple Inc.’s Siri, Microsoft Corp.’s Cortana and Amazon’s Alexa. Alexa powers Amazon’s Echo, a surprise hit that allows users to ask questions and to perform tasks.
The rise of these digital assistants threatens Google’s spot as the go-to place to search for information, which helped Alphabet generate 90 % of its revenue last year through advertising.
Just as Google wasn’t the first search engine for the web, Google executives hope their artificial-intelligence smarts will ultimately overcome the others.
Executives on Tuesday touted the company’s search technology and its so-called knowledge graph, an index of more than a billion entities.
“Google on paper is much better positioned to do something like this” than Amazon, said Jan Dawson, founder of research firm Jackdaw Research. But Mr. Dawson said Google needs to move more quickly to make use of Assistant across its product line.
Beyond the Home device, Google said Assistant would also be built into the new Pixel phones; it is also used in Google’s new messaging app, Allo, where users can text with the Assistant. But it will not yet be a standard part of the Android mobile operating system, used by dozens of other smartphone makers.
“If Assistant doesn’t come to Android, in general, very, very quickly, the whole strategy is flawed, frankly,” Mr. Dawson said. “For Assistant to be useful, it has to be everywhere.”
In a statement, Google said it is “experimenting with these changes to assess user reaction and feedback.”
Home, which will be available in retailers in the U.S. beginning Nov. 4, will cost $129, undercutting Echo, which costs $180.
Google aims to make Assistant more useful by linking it to more third-party applications. There, too, it will start behind Amazon, whose Echo can hail a car from Uber Technologies Inc., among other services.
Google said it is working with Uber, Netflix Inc., OpenTable Inc., Facebook’s WhatsApp texting service and Ticketmaster on voice commands for those services, but the functionality will turn up only after the Home speaker goes on sale.
Patrick Moorhead, principal analyst for Moor Insight & Strategy, said, Assistant represents Google’s next step in capturing information about its users, which it then uses to sell targeted advertising.
“It’s a motivator to the consumer to give even more information about themselves,” Mr. Moorhead said.
Like Echo, Google Home will also be able to control smart-home devices.
At launch, that will include Alphabet’s own Nest, Samsung Electronics Co.’s SmartThings, and Royal Philips NV’s Hue. Home will be able to send music or video requests to Chromecast or Android TV devices that are on the same Wi-Fi network.
As a speaker, Google Home’s first priority will be music. When it hears commands such as, “OK Google, play some Johnny Cash,” it launches music from whatever the owner designates as its default streaming music service, including Spotify, Pandora, TuneIn and iHeartRadio.
The Pixel phone is the first that Google is designing and selling under its own name. Google previously helped design the Nexus line of phones, which were sold under other brand names.
Google said the Pixel, with a 5-inch diagonal screen, will retail beginning at $649 in the U.S. Google also said a bigger version, the Pixel XL, would be available for $770.
Google touted the phones’ camera, quick charging ability—saying the Pixel can derive seven hours of battery life from 15 minutes of charging—and its ability to work with Google’s new virtual reality platform called Daydream. It revealed a new VR headset that will cost $79 in the U.S. and go on sale in November. wsj