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Google adopts an Apple-like approach for its Pixel products

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) – Google yesterday took a big step toward pushing its Pixel product line-up down a road already paved by Apple and its array of trendsetting devices.

The latest additions to its six-year-old Pixel brand will include Google’s first smartwatch that draws upon the features and expertise it has gained from last year’s USD2.1 billion acquisition of fitness gadget maker Fitbit.

The new watch, targetted for an autumn release, marks Google’s first major attempt to make its mark in wearable technology, a market that has been growing steadily since Apple introduced its smartwatch in 2014. Until now, Google’s presence in the smartwatch market had been limited to making a version of its mobile Android operating system for watches made by other companies.

Google also used its annual I/O developers conference to tease a Pixel tablet that it is scheduled for release next year to compete against Apple’s market-leading iPad.

Besides showcasing its upcoming devices, Google also previewed the next version of its Android operating system, which runs most of the world’s smartphones outside Apple’s iPhone. It also highlighted several advances in the field of artificial intelligence.

Google’s emphasis on new devices signals that a company best known for its dominant search engine and other popular Internet software is confident it now has a better handle on how to design and manufacture hardware. It released its first Pixel smartphone in 2016.

Because it already brings more than USD200 billion annually in digital ad sales, Google can afford to branch out into different directions and find new ways to connect with people, said Gartner analyst Tuong Nguyen.

The Pixel 6a phone. PHOTO: AP

Adding more products to the Pixel line-up “gives them another touch point to learn and experience things with people more directly”, Nguyen said. “Now, they not only be in your pocket, but now they can be on your wrist, and in your ears, too.”

Before launching its smartwatch, Google will be fleshing out its selection of Pixel phones with a new budget model called the 6a coming out in late July, along with its first set of wireless ear buds to include noise cancellation. The Pixel 6a will include Google’s top-of-the line processor but sell for USD449 – a 25-per-cent discount from the slightly more sophisticated Pixel 6 released last fall.

The Pixel Buds Pro will sell for USD199. Both products are scheduled for a July 28 release.

The watch will be the first product to test a privacy pledge that Google made to gain regulatory approval for its Fitbit takeover 16 months ago.

As part of the deal, Google promised not to collect the health and fitness information accumulated through Fitbit features to sell digital ads that generate most of its revenue – a commitment that the company said it will honour with the new Pixel Watch.

Although they still aren’t anywhere as popular as phones, smartwatches continued to make significant inroads with projected worldwide shipments of 31.3 million units this year, up from 18.5 million in 2019 before the pandemic helped stoke even more demand for Internet-connected gadgets.

Even after pouring billions of dollars into a hardware division that now employs thousands of people, Google hasn’t made major inroads.

Despite occasional glowing reviews, Pixel smartphones have less than a one per cent share of the global market for the devices, according to the research firm International Data Corp (IDC).

All told, IDC estimates that fewer than 30 million Pixel smartphones have been sold since the release of the first model nearly six years ago. By contrast, Apple shipped more than 56 million iPhones during the first three months of this year alone, according to IDC.

But IDC analyst Nabila Popal said there are signs that the Pixel smartphone line is starting to gain more traction. She believes the Pixel 6 would have sold even better than it already has were it not for chip shortages that have hurt a variety of products, increasing the chances that the lower priced 6a model will be “very well received”.

For its part, Google said the Pixel 6 already has outsold the Pixel 4 and Pixel 5 combined during its first six months on the market.