Boy, oh boy, it has been a busy week for Google.
Big G launched a series of brand spankin new models for both its flagship product lines this Tuesday: Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL on the phone side and then Pixel Slate at the Chrome OS end of the equation. A new home office command center has also made its debut, and an up-to-date Chromecast casts itself into the image.
All of this is certainly good – hey, some of it can even guarantee a good old-fashioned wallet training session – but you know what? None of it is special exciting .
I do not mean that in a bad way either; It is only the nature of mobile tech hardware these days. The Pixel phones deal more about software than anything, and these new devices are mostly incremental updates to keep the hardware fresh. Pixel Slate is really just an alternate version of Pixelbook ̵
What about the home button? Well, it's only Google's own self-made and minimally different version of Smart Displays announced earlier this year, and already released by other manufacturers. And Chromecast – well, to be honest, I do not think someone knows what makes this new model meaningful different from the last, except some subtle visual tweaks that you will never see when things are tucked behind Your TV.
These are all expected and necessary advances, in other words – and products that many people will no doubt enjoy – but they are not really transformational or awe-inspiring in any way. Only one device from this week's event fits the bill, and it is a device you would be forgiven to forget.
I'm talking about Google's Wireless Pixel Stand Charger – a $ 79 accessory that's easy to write as an independent money slot. Who cares about accessories, after all? They are usually the side show and worth a little more than an overview.
Pixel mode, however, is not your average accessory. And much is more significant than it looks on the surface.
Sound, mad? May be. But let me explain.
Pixel mode is not just a place to put the phone for charging. Certainly, it gives your phone power – but the actual purpose is slightly bigger.
When placing a Pixel 3 on a Pixel Stand, the phone effectively transforms into a desktop interface for interaction with Google Assistant – not just from an oral command perspective, but also in a visual and touch-centric model. When a phone comes into contact with Pixel Stand, you will see that the device automatically starts in a special, new, custom assistant mode.
And it's really designed to be an optimal Assistant interface for any environment: A phone at Pixel Stand can show you contextual information based on time of day – maybe To provide a visual overview of your calendar along with weather and personal traffic information in the morning and then serve up shortcuts for recipes and alarm settings later in the day. It can display images from your Google Photos gallery and even display smart home data – streaming from a Nest video doorbell, for example – when relevant.
And of course, Pixel-Stand-clad Assistant always listens for your voice commands and responds both audibly and with touch information on the screen.
In other words, this slim little gizmo makes your phone a full-featured Smart Display, just using a screen and series of microphones you're already wearing, instead of requiring you to own a completely different device. And it also introduces some beautiful new tricks in the process – like the ability to wake you up with a sunrise-emulating light progression on the screen, if you use the stand by your bed, and the ability to distinguish between several pixel racks and adjust their behavior accordingly.
The last part is especially remarkable – and it's a very interesting technological achievement: Google obviously discovered a way to let the pixel stand communicate with phones via the wireless charge signal. This allows the phone to detect which Pixel Stand it connects and then respond to the correct environment.
So if you had a Pixel Stand at your bed, it might be to show pictures of your family, but to avoid bothering your working calendar. If you had a different position at the office, it could show your calendar information along with nature photos instead. And if you put the phone on a random wireless charger in a friend's house or in a public place, it would not do anything at all (other than, you know, let).
The other side of the story
Utility aside, it's important to think about the implications of this from Google's point of view – because in the big picture the perspective we like to consider in these cozy quarters, this angle is incredibly important. Google, remember, is all about making people use an assistant these days. That's why I've called this post-OS era: More than any app, operating system or platform, Google today wants you to be invested with an assistant. All this other thing serves in general to lead you to the assistant's waiting (virtual) arms.
Google has not been shy about admit it either: The company's main hardware honcho, Rick Osterloh, described directly his main task as finding ways "to get Google Assistant in front of people and build a sustainable business around them" (paraphrased words from a profile earlier this year).
As I mentioned earlier, the underlying logic seems to be that the future is less about entering the traditional search box on one page and more about interacting with the electronics around you. And if Google Assistant is the genius in these electronics – whether we talk about your phone, computer, TV or screen you touch and talk to at different points during the day – well, at the end of the day you are Still a Google customer. And that means Google still has a connection to you that allows you to show ads that are targeted to your interests across the web.
For this purpose, Google has worked hard to get an assistant wherever possible. But you know what's easier than getting people to buy standalone gadgets to interact with assistants in different parts of their homes and offices? Yup, you guessed it: To create a single tripod that makes the gadget all already has an optimal Assistant interface.
With Pixel Stand, Google has managed to morph its latest phone to something much more than a mobile device. It's basically a modern twist on the old (and never particularly convincing) phone-to-one portable docking concept – one that is better taken into account today's computing and better serving Google's current business needs.
The lines, they are a-blurrin. And that's all because of a single apparent $ 79 accessory.
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