Alphabet Inc’s Google on Tuesday stepped up its smartphone ambitions with updated Pixel handsets, touting a move toward computing with a simple hand wave or spoken command.
Pixel 4 models boasting features including gesture and face recognition debuted at a “Made by Google” event showcasing new hardware infused with artificial (AI) intelligence to respond to motion and voice.
The Pixel 4 handset with a 5.7-inch display has a starting price of US$799 in the US and would be available globally starting on Thursday next week.
A larger 6.3-inch Pixel XL is to start at US$899.
The new devices aim to ramp up Google’s challenge in the premium smartphone segment dominated by Samsung Electronics Co and Apple Inc, which recently unveiled an iPhone 11 starting at US$699.
Pixel 4 features improved camera capabilities, using artificial intelligence to boost optical zoom and take better photographs after dark, with a feature devoted to capturing images of the heavens at night.
Motion-sensing technology that Google has been working on for some time is built into Pixel 4 and would allow for some basic controls, such as silencing alarms or skipping to the next song, by holding up or waving hands.
The handsets also include a “face unlock” feature similar to those on iPhones and other devices.
Amid antitrust reviews on both sides of the Atlantic over its online dominance, Google is seeking to diversify its business by adding more devices and services.
The company also updated its Nest smart home cameras and speakers, and announced its streaming game service Stadia would launch on Nov. 19.
Stadia allows video-game play on any Internet-connected device, eliminating the need for game consoles.
Google updated products across its hardware line, from Nest smart home devices to Chromebook laptops and wireless ear buds.
The company also built digital assistant capabilities into smart home products from its Nest unit in a move that shrewdly extends its reach, Creative Strategies analyst Carolina Milanesi said.
“I really felt the bigger message today was about ambient computing and how the different products work together to highlight Google’s AI,” Milanesi said.
Google spotlighted product design and user privacy at the event, hitting on themes stressed by Apple as well as Microsoft Corp, she added.
Google emphasized privacy enhancements in its line of products, which kept more personal data and computing functions on devices instead of sending it to datacenters in the cloud.
“Privacy is built in,” Google director of product management Sabrina Ellis said while introducing Pixel 4. “New Google Assistant can respond to day-to-day requests on-device.”
Data processed on Pixel 4 handsets is “never saved or shared with other Google services,” she added.
The Pixel 4 still needs to reach into the cloud for requests such as checking whether flights are delayed or commute traffic troubled.
Pixel 4 users would be able to tell their devices to delete anything said to it that day or week, Ellis said.
A chip in the handset is also designed as a secure digital vault for personal data.
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