In case you missed it, Google just unveiled a bounty of new products: an AI-assisted speaker for your home, a radical router system that will finally fix your crappy Wi-Fi, and the slick new Pixel smartphone to rival the iPhone. Google's announcement -- a bare-bones presentation with a few simple slides -- was in stark contrast to the grand theatrics Apple puts on during its semi-annual keynotes. It was as if Google was trying to beat Apple at its own game: clean, simple design paired with devices that are just as easy to use as they are to explain.
Google and Apple have always stepped on each other's toes to some extent, but this big product drop signifies that Google is aggressively throwing itself into hardware and encroaching on Apple's turf more than ever before. As Google tries to shed its nerdy image and make a grab at disgruntled iPhone owners, the competition between the two tech giants is about to get a hell of a lot more heated.
Google's taking advantage of the palpable Apple fatigue
It's no secret that enthusiasm for Apple has waned in recent years -- iPhone sales sank for the first time ever earlier this year, and amidst all the public outcry about Apple removing the headphone jack, reviews for the newly released iPhone 7 have been mixed at best.
Google has clearly been paying close attention to the moans and groans of Apple's disillusioned customers. It strategically dropped the Pixel at a time when many owners of the iPhone 5 and 6/6s are contemplating whether to upgrade, wait another year for the new new iPhone, or make the switch to another device altogether. You'll notice the Pixel looks a lot more like an iPhone than any Samsung or Nexus you've ever seen, and its most talked-about feature is its camera, which is being touted as the "best-rated smartphone camera ever." That's not a coincidence.
The "uncool" data company is trying to change its image
Google has long been cast aside in Apple's shadow, like the nerdy younger brother who never gets as much attention as his popular older sibling. That's its cross to bear as a company that specializes in things that are inherently uncool: data and software. After all, it's tough to get people pumped about super-accurate maps and email inbox management when across the aisle Apple's flaunting a flashy new phone, tablet, computer, and watch.
Now, Google's effort to put out better-looking hardware that could easily be mistaken for the competition's suggests it's using Apple's signature strongpoint to poach customers. That's not to say it doesn't have a long way to go. Apple has tirelessly crafted its image as the user-friendly, tech-as-accessory brand with a unique retail concept and impeccable customer service. The same can't be said for Google. It has no physical retail presence (yet), is known primarily for its search engine and software, and neither Nexus nor its Android OS are particularly easy to figure out.
Apple's obsessive secrecy works to Google's advantage
Being tight-lipped is critical in Silicon Valley to ensure you don't tip your hand to the competition. However, Apple's secretive company culture and stubborn refusal to acknowledge its shortcomings has made it apathetic to user feedback. The result was a September product drop that ignored consumers' pleas for better battery life and storage, in favor of engineering something "innovative" that no one asked for.
By contrast, Google has historically taken a much more open-door approach. Its now-defunct Google Labs page, for example, was a place where developers and intrepid users alike could test prototypes of cool new projects they were working on. Gmail started out there in 2004, and early versions of both Google Maps and Google Earth were also borne out of it.
Google's also not shy about floating big new ideas to the public -- even if it results in an embarrassing failure. Remember the nightmare that was Google Glass? Before a wide-scale release, Google tested the winds with a group of early users it called "explorers," who wore it around and gave feedback. The public backlash proved we weren't ready, so it pulled the plug. Similarly, Google recently floated its concept for a modular smartphone, but then cancelled it when it realized it would be too technically complex and costly to scale.
Google's willingness to adapt its vision to better serve consumers may be the No. 1 thing it has going for it in the war against Apple. The latest round of products from Cupertino felt like more of the same from a tech behemoth that is starting to feel stodgy and desperate. Google's push to develop transformational technologies isn't hampered by secrecy or some holier-than-thou company image. And for consumers in an increasingly crowded market, that's a breath of fresh air.
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