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article imageGoogle says it's now 'committed' to building AI-centric hardware

By James Walker     Oct 5, 2017 in Technology
Google has expanded its range of hardware products with several new devices, including the Pixel 2 smartphone and additional Google Home variants. The common theme in the line-up is AI, a technology Google said should be "at the core" of modern hardware.
"Why Google?"
Google announced a slew of new devices during its second annual hardware event yesterday. They include the Pixel 2, which is claimed to have the best camera on a smartphone, a revised Daydream View mobile VR headset and the Pixelbook high-performance Chromebook laptop. Two new Google Home models, the Mini and Max, complete the range, putting Google Assistant at the centre of your home.
Until recently, Google was known only as a software and services platform. For years, it appeared content to stick with the role. It briefly dabbled with smartphones when it acquired Motorola. Google then sold the company on to Lenovo, seemingly sealing the fate of its hardware business.
According to Google, its newfound interest in hardware has been borne out of necessity driven by its software business. In a blog post after its event yesterday, Google Hardware SVP Rick Osterloh addressed the "Why Google?" question. He explained Google's internal reasons for building phones, laptops and speakers, outlining how the drive towards new tech necessitates a "different approach" to devices.
Designing around AI
At the centre of Google's interest is AI. The company's using AI across most of its consumer products, whether it's obvious – think Google Assistant – or more subtle, such as improved route suggestions in Maps.
Google's naturally eager to increase adoption of AI, a technology widely viewed as something that could define the future of society. It wants to push its emerging services to consumers as early as possible, establishing its long-term presence in the field.
Google Assistant on Android phones
Google Assistant on Android phones
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Osterloh suggested AI is currently being held back by devices. The full potential of the tech is only realised if it's supported by hardware designed with it in mind. Industrial conventions, such as the essentially constant design of smartphones since their introduction a decade ago, are restricting ways in which AI can be applied. According to Google, this motivation to bring AI "into reality" is responsible for the launch of its "Made by Google" range.
"These days many devices – especially smartphones – look and act the same. That means in order to create a meaningful experience for users, we need a different approach," said Osterloh. "For this wave of computing to reach new breakthroughs, we have to build software and hardware that can bring more of the potential of AI into reality – which is what we've set out to do with this year's new family of products."
Giving AI a home
To explain exactly how AI has shaped devices like the Pixel 2, Osterloh said the current focus is on establishing an environment in which tech like the Google Assistant can operate at its full potential. From the hardware side, this means shaping the device around core characteristics such as performance and design. Google said it aimed to create technology that "doesn't get in the way," instead providing a surface to explore AI on.
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Put more simply, Google wants to make AI more accessible by promoting it to a first-class component of devices. Instead of existing merely as a feature or yet another app, AI services like Assistant become a core layer of the product's software. This raises the probability you'll end up using the AI and having a positive experience, driving adoption of emerging tech.
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