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Google launches its flagship Pixel smartphones


Google has launched its flagship smartphones Pixel and Pixel XL which come with Google Assistant built in. The devices will be available in India starting the 15th of October on Flipkart, with the smaller sized Pixel priced at Rs 57,000.

Interestingly, the new Assistant feature allows anyone to build interactions for it with an open developer platform. Developers can use direct or conversational actions – for example requests to play music, dimming lights etc., are direct actions while conversational actions are those that require user interaction, like asking the destination when users request a ride. Essentially this will let anyone build dynamic interactions with the phones.

The phones are manufactured by HTC, however they are designed by Google and come with a ‘phone by Google’ branding. Hardware-wise, the Pixel comes with a 5-inch 1080p screen while the XL comes with a 5.5-inch 1440p screen, both sport the latest Snapdragon processors (821), 12.3MP back cameras with gyroscope-based video stabilization on board, 4GB of RAM, 32GB or 128GB onboard storage, a 3.5mm audio jack and a fingerprint reader.

Google also offers free unlimited storage for full-resolution images and video shot with the Pixel on Google Photos. The phones run the latest version of Android and the company claims users will get updates directly as soon as available (not through carriers as on some previous Nexus phones).

VR compatibility: The Pixel phones are VR compatible with Google’s Daydream project. The Daydream headset will be available at $79 and is apparently designed with comfort in mind (as opposed to Google Cardboard). The device also comes with a controller that has a clickable touch pad with sensors that let users draw and play games. The company mentions that more VR compatible smartphones are coming soon.

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Different from Nexus: The Pixel devices have been end-to-end designed by Google, unlike the Nexus devices for which Google had outsourced the design part to manufactures. As such Google has complete control on what goes into building the hardware, and features offered in these devices. These smartphones are not the first Pixel devices – Google had previously launched the Chromebook Pixel and the Pixel tablet.

So why now?

Note that Google had earlier decided against manufacturing its own smartphones, and had outsourced the designing part so as not to alienate manufacturers from building Android devices. However, this was at a time when manufacturers switching to a viable OS, like Windows, was still an option. Given that the market is currently dominated by Android & iOS (with no other viable options), and manufacturers like Xiaomi and OnePlus offer custom Android OSes, it’s safe to say the industry won’t be bailing on Android anytime soon, even if Google designs its own devices.

Despite Android’s popularity, it’s market is plagued by fragmentation issues, slow updates and bloatware. With the Pixel initiative, Google can offer an unadulterated Android experience to users in addition to quick updates. Other important factors for designing its own devices is likely the rulings the company has faced for Android being anticompetitive, for example in Russia & the EU.

As a direct result of such rulings, the rising popularity of Android-compatible forks like Cyanogen, and the ample availability of alternatives to the Play Store, Google is likely to lose the control it exerts over the Android ecosystem sooner than later. To continue to offer a purely ‘Google’ experience, the company has to turn to making its own hardware where it can push the ecosystem any which way it wants, similar to what Apple does.

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