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Why Google’s new smartphone leans heavily on AI, virtual reality


Google's Pixel smartphone

In an effort to reflect consumers’ growing dependency on customized mobile interactions, Google’s new branded smartphone, Pixel, contains a fully integrated artificial intelligence assistant alongside complete virtual reality compatibility.

During the live stream of yesterday’s product unveiling event, Google lifted the curtain on its newest machine learning and AI capabilities, revealing its answer to Apple’s virtual assistant, Siri, as well as its latest offering into the smart home device space. The search giant’s executives highlighted the world’s ongoing shift from being mobile-first to AI-first, signaling that other heavyweights in the consumer technology sector – including Apple and Amazon – could face stark competition from Google in this respect.

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“We’re at a seminal moment in computing,” said Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google, during yesterday’s live stream. “Our goal is to build a personal Google for each and every user.”

Pixel perfect
Pixel is the first smartphone built in and out by Google. It serves as the primary player in the search company’s foray into consumer hardware, with each device coming pre-installed with Google’s virtual assistant technology.

Pixel owners can simply tap and hold the home button to activate the voice-enabled assistant, which pulls data from currently installed applications and content visible on the screen. Consumers can converse with the AI assistant as they would with Siri – meaning it can answer any inquiry and complete actions such as booking a reservation or sending a text message on the user’s behalf.

With artificial intelligence mastery at the forefront of numerous mobile marketers’ goals, Google’s heavy investment in machine learning is well placed.

Although smartphone production may be a tricky market to penetrate for the average consumer tech brand, Google’s focus on AI-enabled platforms that offer each individual a wholly customized experience and additional hands-free capabilities will likely help carve out a spot for it in the industry.

Google's Pixel smartphone features an AI assistant

Pixel’s lack of a camera bump – a nod to its sleeker design – and feature-ridden photo-taking abilities could appeal to many consumers. However, its Siri-esque assistant is the real star of the device.

The advent of branded chatbots has made individuals more comfortable in conversing with artificial intelligence platforms and relinquishing some of their personal data in exchange for product recommendations and purchasing options.

A Chatbox.com executive at the MMA SM2 Innovation Summit 2016 stressed the need for brands to leverage interactive messaging – such as chatbots, instant applications and messaging platforms including WhatsApp – to foster conversations with consumers and drive commerce (see story).

Therefore, Google’s virtual assistant is poised to serve as a major selling point for the new Pixel smartphone, which is also equipped for mobile virtual reality.

Pixel is now available for pre-order in the United States. It retails for $649.

Revving up VR
Google is also following in the footsteps of the influx of media publishers and mobile marketers investing heavily into virtual reality with Daydream, its new VR platform. Daydream encompasses a made-for-comfort headset and controller as well as access to YouTube’s entire library of videos.

The Daydream View headset is 30 percent lighter than other headsets, per Clay Bavor, Google’s vice president of virtual reality. It also fits over eyeglasses and has a built-in space that houses the detachable controller.

Google is already collaborating with a slew of brands to bring exclusive VR experiences to customers. One forthcoming activation with Warner Bros.’ Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them film enables viewers to virtually step into J.K. Rowling’s wizarding world and use their controller as a makeshift wand to levitate objects and cast spells.

Google's Daydream View headset

Additionally, Google is working on fostering partnerships with streaming services, including Hulu, that will let Daydream users virtually bring their entire entertainment libraries to life.

The Daydream View headset and controller will go on sale in November for $79.

By letting consumers virtually visit countless real-life and fantastical locations, Google is placing itself at the head of the VR realm. The search giant’s ability to court partnerships with major brands and publishers, such as the New York Times and Netflix, will also add a layer of exclusivity to its products.

“For us, [virtual reality is] not just tech, it’s something we believe is going to be important,” Mr. Bavor said during the live stream.

Alex Samuely is staff writer on Mobile Marketer, New York. Reach her at alex@mobilemarketer.com.

Related content: Consumer electronics, mobile, mobile marketing, google, pixel, pixel phone, google pixel, virtual reality, vr, sundar pichai

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